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    Default Danvers Town manager defies town vote on trading old fire engine

    Danvers Town manager defies town vote on trading old fire engine
    By Jill Harmacinski and Michael Puffer
    Staff writer


    DANVERS Town Manager Wayne Marquis is defying a Town Meeting vote and taking heat from Fire Department captains by attempting to get rid of a town fire truck. Four fire department captains and a Town Meeting member are upset because Marquis wants to trade in the 20-year-old truck, even though Town Meeting voters agreed to keep it as well as order a new truck.

    An order for the new, $249,964 "pumper" engine went out on Dec. 22 and the truck should be in by February. As part of the deal, Danvers will trade in Engine 4 for a $10,000 savings.

    But Town Meeting members specifically turned down this trade when it was proposed in May, as four fire department captains reminded the Board of Selectmen in a letter sent this weekend. Instead, the town's legislative body voted to give Marquis an additional $10,000 more than his $250,000 request in order to cover the trade-in value of the engine. The old pumper would be kept as a second back-up, Town Meeting decided.

    But late last month, Marquis decided to go ahead with his original plan for a trade-in, citing safety issues, in part, as justification.

    In a memo Marquis sent to selectmen on Dec. 21, a day before he mailed a purchase order for the new truck, he admitted his decision "may appear contrary to the sentiment expressed in the amended vote of Town Meeting." But, he wrote, "it is consistent with what I believe, as town manager, to be the prudent course of action."

    Town Meeting member John Duffill III, the son of a retired town firefighter and a town 911 dispatcher, was the man who originally argued to keep the older truck during the May Town Meeting. This week, he questioned how Marquis can simply rebuff the town's major decision-making body.

    "There's no point in having Town Meeting if the manager can just do whatever he wants," Duffill said.

    When questioned about this decision yesterday, Marquis said Town Meeting approves the town's budget, as well as capital expenditures, but as town manager he has the authority to shift money within those budgets to meet changing circumstances.

    "The bottom line is I'm responsible for carrying out such things and I made a judgment based on some compelling reasoning," Marquis said. "Town Meeting doesn't decide operational issues within a department and good judgment has to be applied in the implementation of all budgets."

    Fire Chief James Tutko supports pulling Engine 4 from the town's fleet of four engines, due to safety concerns with the jump seats.

    "The $10,000 isn't an issue," Tutko said. "The money isn't an issue. From my view it's safety."

    The four fire captains who sent a letter to selectmen and The Salem News broke ranks to do so, going above the heads of both Tutko and Marquis.

    Calling Engine 4 "a useful piece of equipment," Captains Robert Flachbart, James McPherson, Frank Sacco and Douglas Conrad argued it should be held as a second back-up for minor tasks, such as keeping an eye on the Fourth of July fireworks celebration, or when firefighters keep watch over a doused fire to ensure it doesn't reignite. It could also be used for mutual-aid coverage to other towns, they said.

    The captains have 82 years of combined firefighting experience.

    The town should keep Engine 4 as a "reserve piece, for an extra measure of safety," Flachbart said.

    Duffill also argued the truck is worth much more than $10,000.

    The firefighters' union backed the captains' letter to Marquis and agrees the town should keep Engine 4 as a back-up truck, said Brian Barry, union president.

    But Marquis, in his memo to selectmen, cites several justifications for his decision to contravene Town Meeting wishes namely, safety concerns.

    The fire truck to be traded has two seats which are not totally enclosed, referred to by firefighters as 'jump seats.'

    A few days after Town Meeting took its vote, fire chiefs across the state received a copy of a letter by a lawyer representing the family of a Brookline firefighter killed last year after falling from a truck equipped with these seats, warning of the dangers of this style of fire pumper. The letter was forwarded by Fire Marshall Stephen Coan, but he did not take a position on the safety of these trucks. He also noted that he has no authority to order they be discontinued in use.

    These seats are placed behind the main cab of the fire engine and are only partially enclosed. A firefighter in one of these seats faces backwards, where there is only a padded metal bar to keep them from tumbling out, should they not be belted in.

    However, some firefighters say the truck is capable of safely carrying three firefighters at all times in the front cab. They always wear seatbelts and due to current staffing levels, no firefighter would be required to sit in the rear section of the cab that management is concerned with, Barry said.

    Marquis also cited additional costs associated with Engine 4. Without taking hoses, breathing apparatus, pipe fittings and other equipment off the old truck, the town will have to spend up to $25,000 on equipment for the new truck. Keeping the old truck will also cost up to $2,000 in annual maintenance, Marquis said.

    Lastly, Marquis' letter noted that Danvers has a mutual aid pact with other North Shore towns, meaning it can draw on manpower and equipment from other departments, even borrow reserve vehicles at no cost on a short-term basis.

    The cost issue to re-equip the truck wasn't addressed in the quick vote at last spring's Town Meeting, Marquis said. As for the safety issue, Danvers discovered its oldest truck is of the same variety on which the Brookline firefighter was killed a short time after the vote was taken.

    Tutko said the seats aren't dangerous enough that the town would suspend their use immediately, but it would be desirable to phase the truck out.
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    This is stupid. Engine 4 is old work horse and is an example of " how they used to be". This truck has a service life well beyond another 10 years IMO. This truck has pinch hit for Eng.3 the POS "Hush" they got more than you can count. Also Eng.2 seems to be down alot within the last 3 years, for a 1996.


    But as always, politicans know best.
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    Originally posted by stm4710
    This is stupid. Engine 4 is old work horse and is an example of " how they used to be". This truck has a service life well beyond another 10 years IMO. This truck has pinch hit for Eng.3 the POS "Hush" they got more than you can count. Also Eng.2 seems to be down alot within the last 3 years, for a 1996.


    But as always, politicans know best.
    The town manager is NOT a politician, his title would be mayor if he was. He is a Bureaucrat. The politicians in this case voted the way you wanted them to vote.
    Last edited by DennisTheMenace; 01-11-2005 at 05:38 PM.
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    What hope is there if it is not even an agreed action from the fire department? Some want it, some don't
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    I don't know if you'd call Town Meeting members "Politicians" per se...

    Represenative Town Meetings tend to have a very large number of members -- in Danver's case according to google, 120. Out of 14,000 registered voters, that's about 1-in-120 people and in most towns becoming a RTM member isn't that big of a deal -- i.e. doesn't take a lot of politicing. I really like the RTM form since it "stabilizes" the town meetings, which otherwise can have huge swings where sometimes you may have 15 people, sometimes 400 show up.

    The "Selectmen" are the truer politicians, since there's only 5 of them out of the 14,000 and run town-wide.

    The Manager probably has to do the most politicing of anyone if he wants to put his stamp on things, since (especially in Mass) he has to deal with a wide variety of Boards that have jurisdiction over various things.

    Where there used, the Town Meeting/Selectmen form of government tends to split the duties of "Town/City Councils" in most of the rest of the country.

    Town Meeting: Legislative body, adopts the ordinances.
    Selectmen: Set the policies to carry out the directives of the Town Meeting & State
    Manager: Executes and implements the policies of the Selectmen.

    IMHO the normal way something like this would have been handled:
    Chief sidelines the truck citing safety concerns.
    Captains/etc appeal to the Town Manager.
    Manager asks Selectmen to sideline the truck citing safety concerns.
    Selectmen do so, and put a warrant on the next Town Meeting article to sell the truck, with an explanation like:
    "We couldn't trade it because the Town Meeting last year specifically said not to, but in all reality we don't believe it's in the Town's best interest to keep the truck and due to safety concerns the Fire Department has been directed not to use the truck, and we ask the Town Meeting to authorize it's disposal."

    Yeah, it's BS procedure. But it's the proper procedure when the RTM has established it didn't want to sell the truck initially.
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