BURRILLVILLE – A social club made up of mostly volunteer members of the Pascoag Fire Department came forward this week in support of Chief Harold Carter following a tense exchange with some residents last month that led their leader to walk out of a meeting.
The conflict followed a difficult year for the district that saw residents questioning leadership of the department and the commission that governs it, and turning out for meetings in large numbers. In flyers and during public comment at the commission’s monthly gatherings, residents have pointed to the suspension of longtime district tax collector Laurie McCutcheon, and to complaints of ethics and public records violations.
A letter signed by 21 members of Hose Company One pointed to the increased involvement.
“While this increase in attendance has included concerned taxpayers that genuinely wish to work toward the betterment of the district as a whole, our unfortunate observation is that personal agendas are also at play,” the letter stated.
The communication from the independent club noted that Carter’s leadership was called into question at the commission’s last meeting on Monday, Feb. 11.
“What is worse, his character itself was questioned,” said the note, dated Feb. 14. “It is apparent that there are several people claiming to be experts on what qualifies someone to lead a fire department, but neither the taxpayers nor the Board of Fire Commissioners, asked opinion of the men and women under Chief Carter’s leadership to determine whether or not we feel he is doing an adequate job.”
Company members pointed to Carter’s leadership during the line-of-duty death of Safety Officer Lt. Richard Jenks last year.
“Without hesitation, Chief Carter took on the daunting but respectable responsibility of leading his man and women through that dark time,” the letter stated. Despite mourning the death of his own decades-long close friend and colleague, the chief, supporters noted, held the various facets of the department together and “united in a commitment to serve the community.”
“While he can admittedly be a bit rough around the edges, Chief Carter has a huge heart,” it said.
To residents who questioned Carter’s certifications, members said, “Thirty years of firefighting experience has not left a paper trail one can use to consider him ‘qualified,’ but experience is something that cannot be taught in a classroom.”
The letter also noted that Carter has been a “primarily volunteer” chief, earning only a stipend.
Pascoag residents, meanwhile, made their own move to organize and communicate, forming the “Pascoag Fire District Support Group” last week on Facebook.
The page, which had 111 likes and 115 follows as of Monday, Feb 25, described itself as, “a group of PFD rate payers, who are dedicated to maintaining high quality fire and rescue service while being fiscally responsible.”
A flyer posted on the page states that Pascoag taxpayers should be “very concerned,” because of “questionable hiring practices,” misappropriated use of funds, and sexual harassment claims, among other issues.
While it is still unclear if Carter intends to leave his position, many residents took his meeting departure as a sign he intended to vacate the job, speaking of his resignation on social media. Commissioners, however, stated after the meeting that nothing was official.
Contacted after the meeting, Carter told NRI NOW that he was unsure of his plans.
The district’s next meeting will be held on Monday, March 11 at 141 Howard Ave.
Editor’s note: An original version of this article stated that 16 members of the Hose Company signed the letter, although the correct number is 21. We apologize for the error.