Massachusetts Fire Chief Squares Off With Board Over His Alleged Anger Issues

TOWNSEND -- Nearly 40 residents, including more than 15 firefighters, watched Fire Chief John Collins square off with the Board of Selectmen over an alleged dispute with a resident, during a public hearing Tuesday.

John Wilder, a resident of Tyler Road, asked selectmen to reprimand Collins for allegedly "accosting" him after a public meeting on April 21.

Wilder said Collins "got within two inches from my face and jabbed his finger in my chest" during a disagreement.

"He exercised poor judgment," said Wilder, adding he felt threatened during the incident.

Collins, who denied ever losing his temper with Wilder, threatened to resign as fire chief several times during the meeting.

"I've been humiliated enough, and my reputation has been tarnished," he said. "I'm not able to govern a department this large (in this way). I'm all done with this."

Chief Collins previously faced a complaint brought by former Townsend firefighter Matthew Allen in August 2003, according to selectmen executive session minutes.

Allen stated that Collins went "into the office, visibly angry and accused him of going over his head" in a personnel matter, according to the minutes.

The Board of Selectmen considered extending Collins' six-month trial period after he was hired because of that complaint, according to the minutes, but voted to end the probation period in October 2003 after Collins agreed to enroll in anger stress management classes.

Wilder told the Board of Selectmen he was concerned about Collins' alleged anger management problems and asked they "address and resolve" the issues.

Paul T. Concemi Sr., chairman of the Board of Selectmen, confirmed that he had not referred Chief Collins to an anger management program. Collins confirmed he had not attended a class but added he exercises daily to relieve stress.

"I will not go to anger management classes, and I won't admit to having an anger management problem," said Chief Collins.

No witnesses spoke during the public hearing, leading Selectmen Daniel J. Murphy and Peter H. Collins to say they did not have enough information to resolve the issue.

"I don't want to make any motion until I speak with the town counsel," said Peter Collins, who temporarily left the meeting due to legal concerns.

"This is beyond the scope of the Board of Selectmen," said Peter Collins, who is not related to Chief Collins.

The hearing adjourned after Chief Collins apologized to Wilder and the two men shook hands, but people were still "upset and heated," said Murphy.

Murphy said after the meeting concluded, he saw fire fighting gear stacked out behind town hall.

"People were yelling, 'You just lost your fire department,' in the parking lot," Murphy said.