Per diem firefighters lose rank in Pascoag, banned from unordered training & volunteer work

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BURRILLVILLE – The Pascoag Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners has notified 14 firefighters that they are no longer eligible to volunteer or attend training sessions unless requested, and demoted those in department ranks who have served as per diem employees.

The move seemingly comes in reaction to a lawsuit filed in September that alleges the district is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by having those who serve as paid per diem firefighters volunteer to perform the same type of services. The suit, filed by ten of the per diem workers, charges the arrangement is an illegal pay scheme, and that they’re entitled to compensation under law as they’ve been classified as volunteers while performing identical work.

All PFD volunteers who have done paid work for the department were notified of the change – officially classifying them exclusively as per diem employees – in a letter from Pascoag Chief Michael Dexter on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

“The policy of the Board of Commissioners (is) to prohibit per diem employees from attending volunteer training sessions, or responding to calls as a volunteer, unless specifically directed to respond to an emergency call by the chief,” the letter notes.

Per diem employees, it notes, are also not eligible to serve in an officer position, which, “are reserved for volunteer firefighters,” under commission policy.

The letter was reportedly sent to 14 firefighter/EMTs, five of whom held titles including, “deputy chief,” “captain,” and “lieutenant.” Ten of the same firefighters are plaintiffs in suit, filed in Rhode Island District Court on behalf of the group last year by Warwick-based Sinapi Law Associates, LTD.

Chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners Christopher Toti said that the, “policy change was enacted for budgetary reasons.”

“A new policy was adopted by the District in November to separate the paid and volunteer portions of the fire department,” Toti said.

Resident Jerilyn Dupuis is among those who have been critical of the decision.

“As a taxpayer and resident in the district of Pascoag, this is of much concern,” said Dupuis this week.

Dupuis noted that without the 14 per diems, the district has just six active on call firefighters. None hold an EMT license and all six have a full-time job outside of the department.

“These six will not always be able and available to respond to all calls,” she said.

Among those effectively demoted by the act is Deputy Chief Richard Peck, a 29-year member of the department who in the past has served as interim chief. The group also includes two firefighter/EMTs who have led the Pascoag Fire Explorers program – offering training to youth in the community – now banned from such training themselves without express authorization.

Toti said that per diem employees that are on shift getting paid may attend training, and that the district still plans to continue the Explorers program. He noted that the chief is expected to present his 2023 list of volunteer officers for approval at the board’s January meeting, as required in the district by-laws.

But Dupuis notes that two other town fire districts – Harrisville and Oakland Mapleville – resolved the same issue several years ago without causing a divide among staff, or creating legal risks and controversy.

In Harrisville, leadership met with members to find a solution, ultimately paying per diems a small stipend when they performed volunteer work to comply with state law. Per diems continue to attend training sessions and hold ranks within the department.

Dupuis said she believes the leadership of the Pascoag department and district have become severely compromised.

“The directive from the board of fire commissioners shows a complete lack of regard for the individuals that elected the board as well as the rest of the town of Burrillville and the surrounding communities,” she said. “Their actions now put the safety of the community in jeopardy. Taxpayers need to get involved.”

Toti, however, said that the commission does not expect to see a decrease in fire service protection to residents.

“This policy change is being enacted in conjunction with a recruiting effort to bring in additional volunteers to fill out the ranks,” said the chairman.

The PFD Board of Fire Commissioner’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan 9 starting at 7 p.m. at the station at 141 Howard Ave.

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26 COMMENTS

  1. Taxpayers need to start asking questions. Like how many full time employees are actually active and able to work (not out injured). Ask for statistics about call response time now that 14 per diems can’t attend any of these calls if they are not on shift. What happens when no one in Pascoag is there to respond, what happens next, how long will it take to say have Oakland Mapleville get to Buck Hill. How long does it take to dispatch Oakland Mapleville if no one else responds? How many times do they tone out before they look elsewhere? You need to ask why the lawsuit was not made public when it was known instead of after the commissioners election. You need to ask why these Firefighters/medics/cardiacs/emts who are still scheduled for shifts were stripped of their rank even though it does not affect their pay. What happens if 14 per diems stop picking up shifts?

    • Taxpayers need to start asking questions. Like how many full time employees are actually active and able to work (not out injured). Ask for statistics about call response time now that 14 per diems can’t attend any of these calls if they are not on shift. What happens when no one in Pascoag is there to respond, what happens next, how long will it take to say have Oakland Mapleville get to Buck Hill. How long does it take to dispatch Oakland Mapleville if no one else responds? How many times do they tone out before they look elsewhere? You need to ask why the lawsuit was not made public when it was known instead of after the commissioners election. You need to ask why these Firefighters/medics/cardiacs/emts who are still scheduled for shifts were stripped of their rank even though it does not affect their pay. What happens if 14 per diems stop picking up shifts?

      • These are all excellent questions. This decision of the Board is a direct threat to the health and safety of Pascoag residents.
        About the suit being made public: the suit was not able to be filed until very soon before the election, unfortunately. By then it was too late to widely publicize the suit and expose the Board members’ actions before the election. The delay in filing was due to the parties of the suit trying to negotiate in good faith with the Board, which the parties sadly found to be fruitless. The Board’s vindictive actions have now exposed them to even greater liability than if they had just done the right thing from the start.

  2. Keith, please also explain to the “crowd” for lack of a better term, what qualified you to be a “deputy chief”? You had no certifications related to the fire service (Fire 1/ Fire2/ EMT/ Etc). A true leader, leads and supports his team. I define Chief Dexter and Richard Peck as remarkable leaders!

    Also in regard to your comments to whomever Mark is, which from my own perspective you are assuming is Chief St.Pierre. Which I highly doubt that is the case. But let’s be clear St. Pierre was not “fired” from pascoag. He was hired as INTERIM chief until a new part time chief was hired.

    I encourage you to educate yourself before making yourself look foolish as you have in this thread.

    Also with your brother being one of the commissioners, and you bringing his name into this, is a shame. No one here is disrespecting Butch and I personally feel most of the fire personnel have much respect for him including myself.

    Your also doing your other brother a disservice when he runs a business in town, and your dragging his name through the mud once again. I’m surprised you’re not more respectful of your own family. And more so not surprised by your attitude through many of your comments.

    So let’s be clear, if you want to make a point, be educated, state fact, and prepare to hear what the other side has to say. I certainly see after many years of being “retired” you still hold much resentment. There’s therapy to help with overcome those obstacles. Best of luck to you.

  3. Keith (Mr. concern),

    Why wouldn’t I be concerned when my husband is one of the only six responding to calls currently! But hey since you want to get this going, YOU “retired” because you were suspended for your conduct and rather than facing your discipline which included suspension and having to set before the board to request reinstatement you retired, like a coward. If there were no issues regarding your conduct and possible consequences, you wouldn’t have “retired”.

    Thanks for your input Keith, have a great New Year, good luck with your future endeavors.

  4. You know what Keith…you told me to “due (sic) my homework and stop spreading lies”, so I did some research, using only the archives from this site, and here is what I found:

    From 11/21/2018:
    The Rhode Island Ethics Commission is looking at two complaints against Pascoag Fire Commissioner Linda Carter submitted by two different residents over the course of the year.
    The latest, submitted Oct. 22 by Stephanie Sloman, notes that Carter recently voted to appoint her personal attorney Albin Moser of Providence, to represent the district itself at the board’s Sept. 17 meeting.
    …and
    The complaint against Linda Carter, the chief’s sister-in-law, alleges that she approved payments from the district to herself and her family members several times rather than recusing herself from the votes. The complaint is still under investigation by the Ethics Commission with the state board recently voting to extend the deadline for their verdict by 60 days.
    From 1/8/2019:
    Commissioner Linda Carter should have recused herself from approving payments from the Pascoag Fire District to herself and members of her family, and her failure to do so showed probable cause for nepotism, according to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.
    The state board held a hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 8 over a complaint filed last year, which included copies of the meeting minutes and check logs showing Carter approving payments to herself, as well as her son, her daughter, her husband and her brother-in-law.
    The commission found in part that “there exists probable cause to believe that, by voting to approve payment of bills on 9/13/16, 2/14/17, 5/9/17, 11/14/17 and 3/20/18, which included payments issued to members of her family, the respondent, a member of the Pascoag Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners,” violated a state law prohibiting nepotism.
    …and
    Among Linda Carter’s recent ethics issues were payments to Carter Bros. Inc., a heating oil delivery company operated by her brother-in-law Kevin Carter.
    Kevin, a former chairman of the Pascoag Fire District Commission and brother to Chief Harold and Deputy Chief Keith, was fined $8,000 after multiple ethics violations in 2010. It stated that his legal fees were paid with tax money – an action that violates district bylaws.
    The decision in that case, which can be found here, noted among other violations that Carter Bros. Inc., entered into a heating oil delivery contract with the district without prior public notice or subsequent public disclosure. For Linda Carter, the finding could likely also come with a fine, or additional litigation.

    …more to follow

    • continuing…

      From 2/12/2019:
      But other issues have emerged as well, including allegations of open records violations and misuse of funds. Recently, Jennifer Spaziano, a firefighter/EMT with Hose Company 2, put forth allegations of sexual harassment against Deputy Chief Keith Carter, the chief’s brother.
      …and
      Spaziano said she brought her complaint to commissioners, who said it would be investigated. Since then, she said, she’s been expelled from the hose company and had hours taken away.

      From 11/12/2109:
      Chief Carter’s brother, Deputy Chief Keith Carter, was placed on a two week suspension in a separate action at the meeting on Monday, Nov. 11 (hmmm…harassing your subordinates again maybe?)

      That’s what I found in about 20 minutes. Quite the little fiefdom your family had going there…Don Vito Corleone would be impressed. Stop with the “retired” bs…it was a case of “you can’t fire me, I quit”, not some graceful wrapping up of a career. In your words…stop lying.

      Want me to “due” more homework? As a wise man once said…be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.

    • We have a real chief, but unfortunately his hands are tied when he is governed by an incompetent, negligent, board of fire commissioners. Read the By-Laws, they give the chief hardly any decision making capability. Why do you think we have been through 6 chiefs in how many years? Because no chief wants liability for these decisions by the board. Chief Dexter is also career in Smithfield, he knows how to operate a fire house!

      • I think what our Secretary of Transportation is hopefully trying to say to hire one full time Chief for the Town of Burrillville. You are absolutely correct on the By-Laws and it states,”The Board of Fire Commissioners shall consist of five members to be elected as provided in Sections I and, Article III of these By-Laws: they shall be invested with all the powers and authority conferred upon them by those By-Laws and the Charter and laws of the State, and shall perform all of the duties pertaining to said office. A majority of said Board shall constitute a quorum thereof. They shall have control of all fire apparatus belonging to the District except when under control of the Chief as hereinafter provided. At their first meeting after an annual election of officers they shall appoint a Chief who shall be in supreme command of the men and apparatus from the time the apparatus leaves the fire station and until its return, and orders shall be given only by him to the officers and men of the fire companies.”

        Nothing will ever happen unless the taxpayers request a By-Law change. Also they should probably change the wording because it only says “men”.

        Same thing with the By-Laws regarding of officers. Why does the Board of Fire Commissioners have any say over officers? Are they experts in the fire service? Are they past fire chiefs? Or are they just elected officials that have a fiduciary responsibility and nothing else.
        The By-Law states,”The Chief shall appoint the deputy chiefs and other officers of the fire companies with the advice and consent of the Fire commissioners.” Is there criteria that a fire officer has to meet? Why would a commissioner advise the Chief on this matter?

        No By-Law change = Nothing is going to happen.

        Good Day

  5. All of Burrillville fire departments should be consolidated. Eradicate all of the current leaders who have been milking the system for generations. Create one central emergency service with one chief and one of everything. Start fresh. It’s all a joke. Make some of the current stations ambulance only sun stations. Cut out the dead wood.

  6. You can’t work and volunteer at the same place, that makes sense, why would someone want to do that? If the fire department only has “six active on call firefighters” and the Per Diems named in the suit that can longer volunteer or come back to calls, shouldn’t we just hire more people? I believe we have full time firefighters, shouldn’t we just hire more full time firefighters? I understand that volunteerism in the fire service is fading which is too bad. A lot of certifications you have to maintain now as a EMT and a Firefighter. Burrillville being a bedroom community, volunteers don’t work in town anymore. I commend the people that still volunteer or have volunteered in their communities.

    To back the statement behind hiring more people, where I used to live in North Smithfield has a full time department, why can’t Burrillville have one? Looks like our budgets are more than North Smithfield

  7. You can’t work and volunteer at the same place, that makes sense, why would someone want to do that? If the fire department only has “six active on call firefighters” and the Per Diems named in the suit that can longer volunteer or come back to calls, shouldn’t we just hire more people? I believe we have full time firefighters, shouldn’t we just hire more full time firefighters? I understand that volunteerism in the fire service is fading which is too bad. A lot of certifications you have to maintain now as a EMT and a Firefighter. Burrillville being a bedroom community, volunteers don’t work in town anymore. I commend the people that still volunteer or have volunteered in their communities.

    To back the statement behind hiring more people, where I used to live in North Smithfield has a full time department, why can’t Burrillville have one? Looks like our budgets are more than North Smithfield. Barrington which is an affluent community, has a budget that’s $1.9 million less than all Burrillville Fire Districts combined. Something has got to give……

  8. What Mrs. Dupuis fails to say in her comments to NRI is that her husband is a Pascoag Firefighter. The per diem staff did this to themselves because theyre greedy and wanted hourly pay instead of coming back as a volunteer. Shame shame on you guys for trying to make the people responsible for mantaining within their budget the bad guys here. I hear they also agreed to drop the suit only if a certain board member didnt win re-election. What a bunch of undedicated clowns. Their suit would cost us taxpayers thousands and thousands in hourly compensation. Finally got a Chief worth a shiz and youre gonna end up losing him. Greedy SOBs.

    • “ I hear they also agreed to drop the suit only if a certain board member didnt win re-election” is not only 100% incorrect, but absolutely absurd. Your resources are NOT good ones.

    • Wow. It’s really sad to hear you refer to the people who are the ones who respond to the vast majority of medical and fire calls in this town as “clowns”. This is the law that is being broken by the Board, and has knowingly been broken by them for years by their own admission. Pascoag is the only district in Burrillville not in compliance. This has nothing to do with greed, it has to do with following the law.

  9. Wow…that response looks like it was written by a not well educated third grader. Good lord, and you were a deputy chief. Try having someone who can write do your response to this. I feel like I just lost 20 IQ points trying to get through that.

  10. In response to who ever mark is one would have thought the same when Harrisville fire district got ride of the st’pierre’s Cabal nope just the opposite Harrisville fire district is thriving now and is a very stable place. Mark not sure if u were ever in the fire service but by your comment’s witch are faults butch cater was the 2nd highest vote getter also its in the records deputy chief Carter retired if u want facts there was a fire chief in town who was fired from hfd and pfd si please due home work before u spread lies thxs retired deputy chief Keith Carter

  11. The management of the PFD has been a cluster-bleep for years. One would have thought that once the Carter cabal was ousted, things would get better. Nope…still as effed up as ever.

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