Proposal would give firefighters power to hire own chief

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 03-09-2023 5:30 PM

CHARLESTOWN — The position of fire chief at one time was elected but more recently it has been done by appointment by the Selectboard.

Now the department wants to change that.

On Town Meeting day, voters will decide whether to give the members of the Charlestown Fire Department sole authority to hire a chief. The warrant article was submitted by petition.

“The membership brought it up,” Fire Chief Mark LaFlam said. “They feel they know (better than the Selectboard) who is most qualified.”

LaFlam said all hiring must go through the Selectboard and if the chief position opens up, the Fire Department’s members want a say in who is leading the department. He said the board is concerned that if the department decides, it might be based on who is well liked and not necessarily the most qualified.

LaFlam has served in the department for 22 years. As chief, he receives an annual stipend as does the assistant chief and officer. The firefighters are paid while on call.

The warrant includes the Selectboard’s recommendation to vote against it. A message left for Selectboard Chairman Jeremy Wood seeking an explanation of the board’s position was not returned.

LaFlam said he has not heard much conversation among residents about whether the article has voter support. A simple majority is required for passage and if approved by voters, the change would take effect one year from the date of approval.

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LaFlam said the request is not related to the recent dispute between the fire department and Selectboard over the department filling a gap in emergency services following the decision to disband the town ambulance service.

In December, 13 members of the department signed a letter seeking more compensation for firefighters and rescuers, who have performed as Emergency Medical Technicians. The town contracts with Golden Cross Ambulance but LaFlam, who supported the letter in concept but did not sign it, said his department started its own rescue squad and it can often provide faster response time which can save lives.

At the December meeting, the board approved LaFlam’s proposed budget with a 14% increase which provided pay increases for all members.

LaFlam said last week the department responded to 400 calls last year of which 41% were medical.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

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