Mass. Town Official Blasts Fire Dept. Policies

April 20, 2013
Sturbridge Board of Selectmen Chairman Thomas R. Creamer, a retired Worcester firefighter, said the a report on the department says a "tragedy waiting to happen."

A "tragedy waiting to happen." That is what the chairman of the Board of Selectmen called the Fire Department under the leadership of Fire Chief Leonard Senecal.

Chairman Thomas R. Creamer, a retired Worcester firefighter, blasted the fire chief late Tuesday night for "absolutely unacceptable and intolerable" deficiencies in the department detailed in a recent 166-page consultant's report.

Consultant Ernest Horn, who is also the police and fire chief and acting town coordinator in Mendon, authored the report.

"I never put anybody in jeopardy at the Fire Department," Chief Senecal said, in his opening statement to selectmen. "I never put anybody in danger. The equipment has been maintained. Brakes have been taken care of all the times."

Mr. Creamer saw things otherwise.

Citing 20 years in fire service and being "fortunate enough" to work for the Worcester Fire Department, which he called "one of the best trained, best equipped and best managed fire departments in the country," Mr. Creamer said not only is the report a "wake-up call" but it shows a level of "negligence" concerning clear accountability, responsibility and professionalism within every level of the department's management structure.

"Having been on the fire ground where eight firefighters died, six in one night, and countless civilian carnage during my career, I can tell you that even the best trained and best equipped, best directed fire department ends up with events that start off as a small thing and then suddenly multiplies," Mr. Creamer said. "An awful lot of things go wrong when somebody gets killed on the fire ground. It's not one thing."

In addition, Mr. Creamer said, he has never come across a report as "damning" to a fire department.

"When I look at these findings," Mr. Creamer said, "it is very clear to me that the Sturbridge Fire Department and the community of Sturbridge is not an accident waiting to happen, but, in fact, a tragedy waiting to happen."

In one of his few responses to Mr. Creamer's accusations, Chief Senecal said, "I don't agree with that."

Mr. Creamer said responsibility falls on the shoulders of the current town administrator as well as his predecessor and, to some degree, the current and previous boards of selectmen. However, he said, "95 percent of the blame" is a "direct failure" of Chief Senecal.

Mr. Creamer also chastised the Sturbridge Fire Department Union for not having filing hundreds of grievances, at this point, to get this matter straightened out.

Selectman Mary Blanchard questioned Chief Horn's credentials to research and issue such a report.

"Everyone says he's an expert. We have no proof he's an expert," Mrs. Blanchard said. "He hasn't proved he's an expert."

Mrs. Blanchard acknowledged that the Sturbridge Fire Department has its share of problems but, added that every community's fire department has problems.

"Do we have problems? Had we had problems? Yes. Should some of them been addressed before? Yes," Mrs. Blanchard said.

"But are we at the point that we have to make Channel 5 News on Boston over this report?"

However, Selectman Mary Redetzke was content with Chief Horn's credentials.

"To question whether or not this is an accurate study, the chief getting on board and getting some of these (recommendations) corrected is proof positive that this gentlemen, Chief Horn, knows what he's doing," Ms. Redetzke said. "I believe, the chief, you're an expert? Right?"

"Yes," Chief Senecal answered.

"Would you say Mr. Horn is not an expert?" Ms. Redetzke asked.

"No, I wouldn't say that," Chief Senecal concluded.

Selectmen went into executive session late Tuesday night after hearing from Chief Senecal, but when they emerged they took no disciplinary action.

Contact Craig S. Semon at [email protected]

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