Top cop named interim fire chief amidst questions about qualifications
By Andrew Lightman / News Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2004
MENDON -- Over protests about his qualifications, selectmen named Police Chief Ernest Horn the town's temporary acting fire chief.
The move came after it was announced that Fire Chief Charlie Johnson would not be returning from medical leave.
After a 30-minute emergency meeting behind closed doors with Horn and the selectmen, Town Counsel Jack Collins told the public of Johnson's decision to leave the department.
"At this point in time, it would appear the chief will not be coming back to work," said Town Counsel Jack Collins. "He has a medical condition with his heart that is apparently job related."
Until last night, with Johnson away from work, Lt. Rich Corcoran had assumed the role of acting fire chief. But with a unanimous vote, selectmen gave Horn control of the Police and Fire departments.
"(Chief Horn) is an excellent manager," said selectmen Chairman Dennis Shaheen. "And this is what we need right now, someone to go into that department, stabilize things and keep everything running."
"I would like to see Ernie (Horn) work with the Fire Department, listen to them and teach them," said Selectman Sharon Cutler.
Reached after the meeting, Corcoran declined to comment.
But several residents, concerned Horn has no firefighting experience, questioned the selectmen's choice.
"I don't know if he's ever been to the academy, walked into a burning building, carried a hose," said Robert Caron, who served on the search committee that ultimately recommended the town hire Johnson four years ago.
Selectmen, however, stood by their choice. They said Horn has appropriate managerial experience to run the department.
At the meeting, Horn said he plans to run the office but delegate the firefighting leadership to his qualified lieutenants.
"Certainly, I'm not a firefighter and I don't pretend to be one," Horn said. "We have two qualified lieutenants who lead the fire scenes now."
That statement, however, raised only more questions from residents as to why selectmen would pick Horn over the firefighters already managing the department.
Given that Horn has no firefighting experience, Tanya Caron asked selectmen why they would hire a man who could only delegate authority at a fire scene.
And Conrad Beliveau said he felt the choice might destroy morale within the department.
"At this point in time, it's sending an awful message to the Fire Department that no one there is able to step in and be fire chief," said Conrad Beliveau.
But selectmen stood by their decision.
"We feel that this man, with the right men under him, has the ability to manage this department," Shaheen answered. "We feel this man will serve the town best as interim fire chief."
According to Collins, Johnson will officially remain the chief until his disability kicks in sometime during the next three to six months.
"I think the chief is making a decision that is sound for himself and his family," Collins said.
( Andrew Lightman can be reached at 508-634-7552 or email@example.com. )
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01-03-2005, 01:03 AM #1
Top cop named interim fire chief amidst questions about qualificationsI dont suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.
01-03-2005, 08:48 AM #2
I guess we can all say that it's a good thing Mendon doesn't elect their chief from within membership, because you might get someone who is unqualified, lacks the neccessary fire credentials, and lacks the neccesary fire experience to be a good fire cheif.If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!
01-03-2005, 08:59 AM #3"Certainly, I'm not a firefighter and I don't pretend to be one," Horn said. "We have two qualified lieutenants who lead the fire scenes now.""This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?
01-03-2005, 10:49 AM #4
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- Jul 2001
- Not the end of the earth but I can see it from here...
I suppose it could work if set up right. If he is taking care of administrative issues and not trying to meddle around on scenes (which seems to be the case), and he has good, effective subordinates handling the operational duties (which also appears to be the case). I agree with Bones, just because those lieutenants are good on the fireground doesn't mean they'd necessarily make good administrators. Conversely, I'm sure the police chief has a great deal of administrative experience.
In our parish (county), a few years back a new sheriff was elected. No law enforcement experience whatsoever...he was a self-employed CPA. BUT, he runs that office like an efficient BUSINESS. He knows how to manage money and how to get grants. That department is better staffed and better equipped than it has been for many a year. He has an excellent captain under him who handles the actual operational end of things. He has been reelected since then, so obviously most people are pleased with the job he is doing. All this without the first qualification in law enforcement.
My boss where I work is the head of the plant's Emergency Services & Security department. Probably the best manager this department has ever had, well liked and respected both within the department and outside. If I brought him out to the fire station (where he seldom goes) I don't know if he could find the pump on the fire truck in three tries (well, maybe not that bad, but you get the idea). My point is, he doesn't know that much about the "nuts and bolts" of what we do...the key thing is, he really doesn't need to. He's an administrator, not a firefighter. But he's got more goodies (new trucks, equipment, trainnig) for this department than any previous manager has either had the balls or the charisma to get. He respects us and expects us to handle the hands-on stuff.
This situation, I think, can work if all parties have the proper attitude. Besides, isn't this just an interim position? Surely they're going to search for a permanent replacement?Chief Dwayne LeBlanc
Paincourtville Volunteer Fire Department
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01-03-2005, 11:05 AM #5
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- Glenn Dale Md, Heart of the P.G. County Fire Belt....
The Fire Chief steps down, and the next in line are two Lieutenants?? NO question about anyone's credentials, I'm just trying to figure out why there (apparently) is no one between a Lt. and the Chief. No Deputy Chief, Assistant Chief, Captain, Nothing? What the Heck?Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
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01-03-2005, 11:09 AM #6"Certainly, I'm not a firefighter and I don't pretend to be one," Horn said."I would like to see Ernie (Horn) work with the Fire Department, listen to them and teach them," said Selectman Sharon Cutler.
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01-03-2005, 11:59 AM #7
Re: HuH??......................Originally posted by hwoods
The Fire Chief steps down, and the next in line are two Lieutenants?? NO question about anyone's credentials, I'm just trying to figure out why there (apparently) is no one between a Lt. and the Chief. No Deputy Chief, Assistant Chief, Captain, Nothing? What the Heck?If my basic HazMat training has taught me nothing else, it's that if you see a glowing green monkey running away from something, follow that monkey!
01-03-2005, 01:58 PM #8
Mendon has a population of about 4,000. Couldn't find any specifics on the FD...but neighboring Upton with a population of 6,000 has a paid day crew + 28 on-call firefighters, I'd imagine Mendon would fit a similiar if not even smaller profile from what I know occassionally driving through the area.
If this is a short-time move to provide administrative leadership for the six-months until budgets are done and they can officially hire an acting fire chief, that's one thing. I don't think you want them under the PD in perputity -- especially when a department that small probably counts on the paid Fire Chief to be part of the active command/operations staff during daytime incidents.IACOJ Canine Officer
01-03-2005, 02:13 PM #9What could he possibly teach them
Does a department that small need so many line officers? Between the 2 stations that make up my department, we average between 20-30 guys on most calls. 10 of them are officers. If you don't have that many guys, why have so many officers. Our population is about 8k, all volunteer."This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?
01-03-2005, 08:43 PM #10
Bones... same thing here.
We'll roll on something like a car fire, and I'll gaze around the truck and see 5 line officers, and wonder about the chiefs/indians thing.
Similar demographics here.
01-03-2005, 11:17 PM #11
I'm riding the fence on this one. It could be good, as he's an experienced manager, but it could be bad since he has no knowledge of the business.
As long as he entrusts his Lt's and FFs to tell him what is needed and doesn't question their decisions or try to interfere with operations at scenes, it may be OK......
Harve, I was wondering the same thing about only 2 Lts and a Chief....The comments made by me are my opinions only. They DO NOT reflect the opinions of my employer(s). If you have an issue with something I may say, take it up with me, either by posting in the forums, emailing me through my profile, or PMing me through my profile.
We are all adults so there is no need to act like a child........
01-03-2005, 11:42 PM #12
I suspect the Dr is right about the Lt's .............and I agree with '77 that this COULD be a good thing maybe.........IACOJ both divisions and PROUD OF IT !
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01-03-2005, 11:53 PM #13
- Join Date
- Dec 2004
Bones you made the point I was going to. He could teach alot about the Admin side of things. We don't know what level of the two Lt's are at all. So it is a good chance that they might not be able to run the department the way the town wants. The Chief made it clear he was going to let them run the job. He also made the comment that the Lt's run the scenes now anyways. So it is possibel the chief that is leaving didn't go out much either. Not saying he as too, but in a small town he could.
I will go out on a limb and say That this will end up happening alot in small towns and cities. Were you have good line officers just need a paper man. I can see how it could help money wise, just pay him a little more then he is. No worry over two salaries.Thanks
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01-04-2005, 12:28 AM #14
After thinking about, you have the other side of the coin, also........
The Chief left after he couldn't return from medical leave....... What was it for? Could it be possible that he left because he thought he couldn't do the job the way that he had been doing it, as in an active chief (not just administrative)? Maybe he could still do it in an administrative manor, like the police chief is going to do it, if he knew that the town would let him?
Just a question out of pure curiosity, as I have no knowledge of this situation, other than what is in the article......The comments made by me are my opinions only. They DO NOT reflect the opinions of my employer(s). If you have an issue with something I may say, take it up with me, either by posting in the forums, emailing me through my profile, or PMing me through my profile.
We are all adults so there is no need to act like a child........
01-04-2005, 12:54 AM #15
I know Chief Charlie Johnson... he is more than capable of doing the job. his reason is medical and 100% legitimate."The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY
01-04-2005, 02:05 AM #16Originally posted by CaptainGonzo
I know Chief Charlie Johnson... he is more than capable of doing the job. his reason is medical and 100% legitimate.The comments made by me are my opinions only. They DO NOT reflect the opinions of my employer(s). If you have an issue with something I may say, take it up with me, either by posting in the forums, emailing me through my profile, or PMing me through my profile.
We are all adults so there is no need to act like a child........
01-04-2005, 11:53 AM #17
- Join Date
- Apr 2004
- Bossier Parrish, Louisiana
Personnaly I don't see this as a bad thing, depending on the situation. Obviously, the police chief has experience in dealing with the muncipal government and making decisions within thier system regarding budgets, finances, procurement and employee matters. The Lts may never have had a lot of exposure to this part of the operation and may quite honestly, may not have the administrative skills and training to handle the chief's posistion RIGHT NOW. It is quite possible that they will be trained in these aspects of the job and one of them will assume the posistion down the road. Gone are the days that " a damn good fireman" can assume the chief's job in a busy volunteer or small combo department and be successful in running the organization without a firm grasp of the administrative duties needed. One example was a department close to me in northern Vermont, where a business executive with less than 2 years of firefighting experience was elected chief. He allowed his other officers to handle all scenes and delegated firefighting policy decision-making to them as he concentrated on adminisrative and financial matters. Within 5 years, he had streamlined the operation and increased finances to the point where they had replaced most of thier fleet and station, and improved thier ISO rating 2 full grades.
01-04-2005, 03:02 PM #18
- Join Date
- Sep 2001
- No. Providence R.I. : Land of the "How ya doins"
Most towns in Mass. have some sort of combination system with either 1 or 2 guys around the clock supplimented by POC's or day manning. And it isn't uncommon for a Lt. or Capt. to be shift commander in Mass. either with no rank between them and a deputy or Chief of Dept. Hope Mendon gets on the stick and hires someone qualified to be both an administrator and operations manager."I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a fireman. The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we know the work which a fireman has to do believe that his is a noble calling."
Edward F. Croker
Fire Dept. City of New York
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01-04-2005, 07:13 PM #19
I know Charlie as well, had him as a professor for a few courses when I got my Bachelor's degree back in Mass. Nice guy, pretty darned knowledgeable, and seemed to pretty progressive - especially considering how things are in Mass. sometimes. Sorry to see him have to leave at such a young age, especially since he has a couple of young children at home too.
Mendon is a very small town and if I recall correctly, the department has a few guys in the Captain / Deputy position but they are call personnel and just plain may not be able to step into the position, not tom mention unless you are a pretty good manager with a good amount of managerial experience you can't just step up into a chief's slot.
There are a few lieutenants on the day staff because they oversee certain operations like EMS and training so they ought to have a ranking to reflect that position and responsibility.
As for a police chief running it? There can't be that many chief positions that are not about 98% administrative. That is what this chief is going to do, run it like a manager until the town can get up to speed to select their next fire chief. It took them a while to select Chief Johnson with an assessment center and interviews and all. If I recall he was pretty active operationally due to the short staffing he has in the daytime."Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like." Will Rogers
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01-11-2005, 02:57 PM #20
Fire officials suggest new chief first
By Andrew Lightman / News Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
MENDON -- Before selectmen vote on the future of the fire department, past and present fire officials are urging them to hire another full-time fire chief.
Two weeks ago selectmen announced Fire Chief Charlie Johnson resigned his post due to a job-related medical condition.
Police Chief Ernest Horn, serving as the town's acting fire chief, will give a report to selectmen at 7 tomorrow night to recommend how the town should manage the fire department.
Horn said he is evaluating the department and may recommend the town keep a full-time fire chief or cut the position to part time. Horn said he is also looking at an option that would combine the management of the police and fire departments under the control of a public safety director, a job he would likely get if selectmen approve.
Selectman Sharon Cutler said she isn't leaning toward any particular option yet and hopes to study the issue more before she is asked to vote. "We have plenty of time to do our analysis," Cutler said. "We want to evaluate all the options that we have."
But heading into the meeting, Jack DeLuca, who was Mendon's full-time fire chief from 1988 until he retired in 1994, feels selectmen should keep a full-time chief.
"I hope they continue on with the full-time chief position," said DeLuca, who plans to attend tomorrow's meeting. "It's absolutely important to have someone on scene that can call the shots and knows what's going on."
While he said a public safety director would lack important fire-related knowledge, DeLuca said some of the present Mendon firefighters who worked for him would make capable fire chiefs.
"They're a good bunch of people. They've done a very good job from what I've heard," he said. "I'm extremely proud of them."
Admittedly lacking intimate knowledge of Mendon's situation, David LaFond, president of the Fire Chiefs' Association of Massachusetts and Holyoke's fire chief, also strongly recommended against the public safety director option.
"Generally speaking I don't think it's the right decision. The town owes it to the fire department, especially in this day and age of added responsibility," LaFond said. "There's a slew of things that a modern fire chief needs these days. It's a lot more than looking at a budget."
While some may see the police and fire chief job as similar, LaFond said they have equally important but very different jobs. On one hand, a police chief's primary role is law enforcement, but a fire chief must enforce state fire codes.
"You need the key understanding of the laws," LaFond said. "And you don't know this stuff unless you come up through the ranks." Being an insider and knowing the strengths of each firefighter is also immeasurable at a fire scene, LaFond said.
In a fire scene, leadership always falls to the most senior member of the department. If the chief cannot coordinate the efforts of his firefighters, LaFond said a lieutenant has to stop dragging a hose or ventilating a room to direct the force.
"How can he make day-to-day decisions of what the fire department needs unless he is just a true manager?" LaFond said. "I would recommend that they stick with the effective proven model of a modern fire department."
( Andrew Lightman can be reached at 508-634-7552 or firstname.lastname@example.org. )I dont suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.
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