BURRILLVILLE – Chief Joseph Bourquin of the Nasonville Fire District has been terminated from the job without cause following a vote on Wednesday, Oct. 3 by the department’s operating committee.
Bourquin, the chief in Nasonville since 2016, was two months in to a two-year contract for part time employment at $30,000 a year. He was notified in an email Wednesday night that he will be placed on administrative leave with pay for the next 15 days as required in the terms of his contract.
The note, which came as a surprise to Bourquin, was signed by Nasonville Fire District Acting Clerk “Christine Christine.” Christine Chretien currently serves as district clerk.
The vote was the latest in a series of rapid changes to emergency service in the village. Last Thursday, Sept.27, residents voted 62-20 to effectively disband the union staff, putting 13 paid firefighters out of work. The vote was presented as a one of two “budget options” that saw resident tax bills either increasing by 70 percent, or decreasing by 30 percent.
The collective bargaining unit has since filed several charges against the governing board, alleging violations of state law.
On Monday, firefighters who had continued to report to work were sent home. Bourquin said the staff was not given written notice of the change.
“If you don’t give it to them in writing, they’re going to show up because it’s not official,” said Bourquin. “They kept coming in, and then Monday around 10 a.m., the chairman of the board told me to send them home. I had to call them on the phone.”
Joseph Andriole, president of the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters, said he believes the action violated the group’s collective bargaining agreement. The union has filed a grievance alleging a violation against the district’s operating committee, the seven-member elected board that put the issue before voters.
The decision to eliminate paid staff at the department – one of four independent fire districts in Burrillville – began with a contract dispute. Members of committee have said that union leadership demanded increased pay, overtime, healthcare and pensions, and refused to negotiate.
Union leadership, meanwhile, says that the committee never bargained in good faith, or came back with a counteroffer. Prior to the vote, the group filed for interest arbitration, a process governed by state law.
Andriole told NRI NOW this week that Boston-based arbitrator Mark Grossman will preside over the case.
And he said it is just the start of the litigation the district will be facing.
“The taxes will be just as much in Nasonville,” said Andriole. “It’s just not going to go to public safety. It will go to litigation.”
Andriole said the union has also filed an unfair labor charge with the state labor relations board.
“We’re alleging that they bargained in bad faith and the terms in prior contract should remain at full force and effect until either the parties negotiate a successful agreement, or the arbitration panel renders a decision as to the terms of the next contract.”
Andriole said they’ve also filed two Open Meetings complaints.
The first charges that the board violated Open Meetings law by discussing the decision to terminate the Nasonville staff – and send their emergency calls to the neighboring district of Oakland/Mapleville – prior to bringing up the issue in a public meeting September 11.
“We believe they met with Oakland Mapleville and discussed what their plan would be,” said Andriole.
The second charges that the agenda for the board’s meeting on September 27 did not adequately inform residents of the possibility they would eliminate staff.
“We allege that it’s insufficient notice,” said Andriole. “We don’t think that the description of what would be discussed was clear enough to the public. I do think there was definitely some miscommunications as to what the people were voting on.”
“There’s been a lot of legal challenges over the past week which will equate to a lot of dollars that they’ll be spending which should go toward public safety,” he added. “That part is sad for the district.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 3, the board met to discuss reorganization of the department and termination of staff. It was there that they voted to terminate the chief, who has been vocal in his opposition to the firing of union staff.
At the firehouse this week leading up to the meeting, Bourquin said things were quiet.
“I think a couple of volunteers went by last night to check some of the equipment,” he said.
He said the village had three or four calls for service over the past few days and none of the volunteers were able to make it.
“There’s nobody there to answer the phone,” he said. “There’s nobody there to answer the door.”
Bourquin said a vendor came by to calibrate the department’s meters – used to measure carbon monoxide levels – and he had to give her the code to the building.
Andriole said the charges filed so far may not be the last.
“Even when they counted the votes there was no transparency. They counted the votes in total seclusion,” he said.
The union leader said there are also ethics issues in question.
“I think you’ve got people who are on the board in Nasonville who work for monetary gain for the board in Oakland/Mapleville,” said Andriole.
“From a Public Safety perspective, you’re taking a fire service and you’re closing it down and your not adding any personnel or equipment,” added Andriole. “Those people in Oakland/Mapleville I feel equally bad for as I do for Nassonville because they’re diminishing service.”
“I think the other districts are going to feel the repercussions as well,” Andriole said. “They’re going to have to provide assistance almost on a continuous basis.”
Members of the board could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday evening, but will be provided the opportunity to dispute the assessment. The attorney working for the board, Timothy Cavazza, has not returned NRI NOW’s calls for comment.