Bethel officials under fire for their handling of firefighter’s comments

"Do you think it's OK what that young man wrote on the internet?" Tom Harty, Pastor of the United Church of Bethel, and a former medical examiner, asked the Bethel, Vt., Selectboard, at their meeting on Monday, April 8, 2024. "After the incident on the interstate involving the trooper, the notes that were written simply closed this case, and you have been blinded to it somehow," he said referring to insensitive social media posts by a Bethel firefighter about a Vermont State Trooper critically injured in a crash in March. "You guys disgust me," Harty concluded. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Lynne Tracy, of Barnard, hugs her son, Bethel volunteer firefighter Josh Tracy, as firefighters gather after leaving a selectboard meeting at Town Hall in Bethel, Vt., on Monday, April 8, 2024. Rob Tracy, who is Josh's father and Lynne's husband, quit working with the Bethel fire department in solidarity with long-time chief David Aldrighetti, who resigned last month. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Lynne Tracy, of Barnard, hugs her son, Bethel volunteer firefighter Josh Tracy, as firefighters gather after leaving a selectboard meeting at Town Hall in Bethel, Vt., on Monday, April 8, 2024. Rob Tracy, who is Josh's father and Lynne's husband, quit working with the Bethel fire department in solidarity with long-time chief David Aldrighetti, who resigned last month. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News - James M. Patterson

Bethel Selectboard Chair Chris Jarvis, middle, listens to comments from the floor during a board meeting at Town Hall in Bethel, Vt., on Monday, April 8, 2024. At left is Selectboard member Dave Eddy, and at right is Town Manager Therese Kirby. Jarvis said discussions about establishing a fire department advisory board began several months ago, but did not come to fruition before the loss of the department’s tanker truck in a crash on Interstate 89 last month, and related personnel conflicts.  Members of the Bethel Fire Department and their supporters turned out to speak about the recent resignation of Volunteer Fire Chief David Aldrighetti. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Bethel Selectboard Chair Chris Jarvis, middle, listens to comments from the floor during a board meeting at Town Hall in Bethel, Vt., on Monday, April 8, 2024. At left is Selectboard member Dave Eddy, and at right is Town Manager Therese Kirby. Jarvis said discussions about establishing a fire department advisory board began several months ago, but did not come to fruition before the loss of the department’s tanker truck in a crash on Interstate 89 last month, and related personnel conflicts. Members of the Bethel Fire Department and their supporters turned out to speak about the recent resignation of Volunteer Fire Chief David Aldrighetti. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News - James M. Patterson

Bethel firefighter Derek Aldrighetti speaks to the town's Selectboard about his dad, David Aldrighetti's, resignation as fire chief at the Town Hall on Monday, April 8, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Bethel firefighter Derek Aldrighetti speaks to the town's Selectboard about his dad, David Aldrighetti's, resignation as fire chief at the Town Hall on Monday, April 8, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News - James M. Patterson

Former Bethel Fire Chief David Aldrighetti directs firefighters from East Randolph during a fire at the Middle Branch Grange Hall in East Bethel, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. Aldrighetti resigned at the end of March after 35 years on the department after he was prevented by Bethel Town Manager Therese Kirby and Selectboard Chair Chris Jarvis from dismissing a volunteer firefighter who made insensitive social media posts about a Vermont State Trooper who was critically injured in a crash on Interstate 89 last month. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Former Bethel Fire Chief David Aldrighetti directs firefighters from East Randolph during a fire at the Middle Branch Grange Hall in East Bethel, Vt., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. Aldrighetti resigned at the end of March after 35 years on the department after he was prevented by Bethel Town Manager Therese Kirby and Selectboard Chair Chris Jarvis from dismissing a volunteer firefighter who made insensitive social media posts about a Vermont State Trooper who was critically injured in a crash on Interstate 89 last month. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-11-2024 7:31 PM

Modified: 04-15-2024 3:13 PM


BETHEL — Supporters of the town’s former fire chief harshly rebuked town leaders this week over their handling of a firefighter whose colleagues want to oust him from the fire department.

One vocal supporter pointed at and denounced town officials to their faces: “You guys disgust me.”

Tom Harty, a former regional medical examiner and state trooper, excoriated both the chairman of the town’s Selectboard and the town manager at a public meeting.

The Selectboard set aside a public comment period at Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting to hear residents voice their support for former longtime Bethel fire chief David Aldrighetti, who resigned after the town blocked his effort to kick out a firefighter who used a social media post to disparage a state trooper who was gravely injured in a highway accident.

“Do you think it’s OK what that young man wrote on the internet? Do you think it’s appropriate?” said Harty, addressing Bethel Selectboard Chairman Chris Jarvis by name.

“Would you stand down at Dartmouth Hitchcock holding that man’s hand like I have in that bed, looking across at his wife and saying that he was a no good pig?” Harty demanded, standing at the microphone a few feet in front of the table where Selectboard members and the town manager sat. “Would you like to come with me and read it to his wife in front of him while he sits there helpless in that bed on the edge of death?”

“You guys disgust me,” said Harty, now a church pastor in Bethel.

Board members, meanwhile, sought to defend their handling of the personnel matter that has angered members of the fire department and town residents alike.

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Jarvis set aside time at the beginning of the meeting to explain the position of the town — to the extent that he could given it involves a personnel matter because Bethel volunteer firefighters are considered “employees” of the town. In addition, he tried to address concerns of people upset over the fire chief’s resignation. (Officially described as a “retirement” although Aldrighetti has said that is for appearance’s sake).

Jarvis and Town Manager Therese Kirby came in for a pummeling but held their composure, explaining that there are legal constraints the town must abide by when handling personnel matters involving town employees.

“There has been a lot of unnecessary attacks against the town manager, myself and the Selectboard,” Jarvis said in an email to the Valley News following the meeting. Those attacks, he said, have been “fueled by the spreading of misinformation” on social media and “individuals not understanding the process.”

Calling the Selectboard and town manager “very strong supporters of our fire department,” Jarvis lamented the “personnel issue at hand is very unfortunate” and acknowledged “the outcome has been unsettling.”

“I get that there are a lot of citizens in our community that are unhappy in how this played out, but attacking people in our community that work so hard everyday to bring positive outcomes to our town wasn’t the appropriate approach,” he said, adding “this all could have been avoided two weeks ago without running the good town of Bethel’s name through the mud.”

Jarvis did not explain what could have been done differently to have avoided the contretemps.

Aldrighetti resigned on March 29 over frustration at being unable to dismiss the volunteer firefighter who took to social media to discuss a Vermont state trooper whose cruiser crashed into the back of a Bethel fire truck while firefighters were responding to another crash on Interstate 89 last month.

Aldrighetti contended the social media post had been the latest in a string of infractions by the firefighter that was disrupting the department and causing friction among other members.

“We took a gamble on this person,” said Aldrighetti, explaining that when the volunteer — who he did not identify by name — initially joined the fire department “he did well. But now, no.”

The firefighter in question, Bethel resident Tom Gauthier, appeared to take satisfaction at the fate of the trooper, whom Gauthier alleged beat him during an arrest arising out of a traffic stop for a broken headlight in 2018. Gauthier is a convicted felon who by his own account has been arrested more than a dozen times.

Gauthier subsequently apologized and deleted the post, acknowledging what he wrote was “insensitive to the condition of the trooper” but “as many of you know I always speak my mind.”

Aldrighetti, who served with the Bethel fire department 35 years, directed his pointed remarks at Jarvis and Kirby, both of whom he claimed undercut the independence of fire department by forming an “advisory board” to oversee it. (He spared other members of the Selectboard from his harsh appraisal, contending they had not been informed of the personnel issues concerning Gauthier).

He criticized Jarvis and Kirby for following an attorney’s advice that they couldn’t block the firefighter from joining the department or discipline him over his social media post because it is protected under free speech. Their fear of a lawsuit was interfering with doing the right thing, Aldrighetti argued.

“You can blame it on the lawyer all you want,” he said. “But all you had to do was at least come to us, talk to us, make us part of the conversation,” Aldrighetti said. He told the board that he spoken with two other town managers and a lawyer “and they all said this could have been handled completely different.”

Aldrighetti said that the firefighter had been formally “reprimanded six times in the letter” for violating “Bethel employee conduct policy,” calling the firefighter a “bad egg.”

“This person we’re talking about, we can’t trust him. But none of that matters because it’s all employee rules, employee laws. That’s the way the world is going,” he said.

Gauthier, who estimates he has been on more than 150 calls over the three years he has been with the department, said the reprimands were “mostly for station etiquette” such as how he handled his gear and “heckling comments” he made during a fundraiser.

“As far as I know there’s no actual safety infractions that would cause anyone on any scene to be unsafe or any person to feel unsafe about me being on scene,” Gauthier said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.