Massachusetts Firefighters Follow Chief, Resign

If people in Blandford, Mass. need fire or EMS help today, they will likely have to wait.

That's because there is no fire department. Chief Robert DeCouteau resigned Tuesday night, and his firefighters walked away with him, according WWLP.

The fire department's bay doors are closed, the equipment is gone and mourning bunting hangs on the building.

"We have gone as far as we can. We do not want to leave the town without fire protection and without medical protection, but our options are not only limited, they're pretty much used up," volunteer firefighter Tom Ackley told a reporter.

The response time is expected to go from four to possbly more than 20 minutes.

Crews said there's been a rift between the chief and town Selectman Bill Lavakis. Recently, the town officials have wanted to have a hand in fire department business and operations. 

"I don't believe that what happened 20 years ago has any bearing on what's happening today," Bob Costello, a Blandford EMT, told reporters. "You've got a person who's totally dedicated to the job to the town, to the people and they want to throw it away."

A longtime firefighter, Tom Piper said the incident has cast a negative pall over Blandford, a close-knit hilltown of about 1,200 people in western Hampden County.

The fire department is united behind the chief, and so are rank-and-file townspeople, he noted.

Blandford fire officials also reportedly notified the state fire marshal that their department was no longer responding to incidents.

Until then, nearby companies will be answering calls in Blandford.

Piper said the firefighters have been at odds with town leaders for a few months.

He told a reporter that Massachusetts General Law gives DeCoteau the power to make appointments and other decisions. But, the local officials thought they should intervene.

 "They are trying to usurp the power and authority of the chief. We, as a department, have been fighting with them all summer over this," he told the media.