PARIS — Even after the mass resignation of 18 firefighters Wednesday, Paris Fire Chief Mark Blaquiere said as far as he’s concerned, the department is operating at full capacity.

Mark Blaquiere

“I rejected their resignations,” he said Thursday. “No one resigned, because I have the authority to do that. I’m not accepting their resignations. We have a full staff here, and if the bell goes off, we will respond.”

According to Blaquiere, he has the power to approve or deny a resignation request. Thursday morning, he reached out to his crew, and according to him, told his force the proper steps to resign.

“Until I see some official paperwork, they are not resigned,” Blaquiere said.

But that’s not the way former Fire Chief Jon Longley sees it. Longley resigned as a firefighter Wednesday night, along with the others, and said they should be considered “resigned” until negotiations with the town and the Board of Selectmen begin.

“Mark did indeed send out a message that said ‘I will not accept your resignation.’ There was no other information with that, no other suggestions to do it differently. . . . He said simply, I will not accept your resignations,” Longley said.

The mass resignation occurred Wednesday afternoon after Town Manager Dawn Noyes, along with Human Resources Manager Paula Andrews, apparently reversed a decision on a personnel matter made by Blaquiere. The chief had reduced the rank of an individual in the department, but Noyes reinstated the individual’s rank, Longley said.

Firefighters’ gear is left on the floor of the Paris Fire Station on Western Avenue after 18 members of the department resigned Wednesday afternoon. Submitted photo

As of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, repeated calls to Noyes were not returned, nor were emails to Selectmen Scott McElravy, Carlton Sprague, Peter Kilgore and Chris Summers.

Reached at 10 a.m. Thursday, Board of Selectmen Chairman Rusty Brackett said he had no comment on the situation, and that he wasn’t aware of the resignations until last night.

Brackett said that more than three selectmen can’t meet without it being considered a public meeting, and a public meeting can’t happen without public notification, which, as of Thursday, had not been issued.

According to Longley, multiple requests made by Fire Department officials to selectmen to call an emergency meeting to discuss the issue were denied.

“Multiple attempts to reach out to the selectmen to have an emergency meeting were denied,” he said. “I really am quite taken aback from that; why they are ignoring something I would consider to be an emergency.”

Longley said the town has expressed an unwillingness to meet with the firefighters directly to discuss the reasons for the resignations.

“Why are they unwilling to meet with the group collectively? There isn’t a Fire Department employee I’ve talked to that isn’t willing to go and sit and listen and negotiate and talk about this. . . . But they don’t want us to be heard. That is the biggest problem,” he said.

On Feb. 13, members of the department attempted to hand the personnel complaint over to selectmen during a board meeting. At the time, Human Resources Manager Andrews said handing the complaint over to the board violated the town’s personnel policies and she advised the board not to take the printed complaint that was put in an envelope.

“If it’s personnel related, you have to take it to your supervisor first, and if they haven’t addressed it, you take it to the town manager. If you haven’t brought it to her, you can’t bring it to the board,” Andrews said then.

According to an updated complaint policy posted on a bulletin board at the Town Office on Feb. 6, signed by Andrews, employees, as an extra step, are required to submit complaints to the Human Resources Department.

Former Selectman Scott Buffington said that change was unauthorized. “The whole thing’s a mess. . . . That hasn’t been approved by the selectboard,” he said recently. “Any policy and procedure change has to be approved by the board.”

According to Longley, the situation is gaining traction and snowballing. He said he has talked to political leaders and national magazines about the situation.

“This is not a small town — ‘I’m mad at you because you blew up my G.I Joe.’ This is much larger than that,” Longley said.

Asked what would happen if there was a fire call, Longley said that was still up in the air.

“That’s a very good question. . . . The fact of the matter is that there is no fire department that has too many personnel already. We do not have enough. That’s why we reach out to smaller communities (for mutual aid) even for smaller events now,” he said.

He said it is the town’s responsibility to meet the firefighters halfway and listen to their concerns. “This should be their highest priority, mitigating to make sure there are emergency services for the people this is going to affect.”

However, Deputy Fire Chief Brad Frost said the town is “covered.”

“I think in a couple of days, it will be back to almost normal. . . . There are a few bumps we have to go through,” said Frost, who is a former longtime fire chief of Paris.

Frost, along with Blaquiere, was the only other firefighter who did not resign Wednesday. He said he was upholding his oath.

“We’re covered, we’re not in any danger,” Frost said.

Blaquiere, while asserting that the resignations were not valid and that the department was technically fully staffed, said Thursday that firefighters had a choice not to respond to calls.

“They don’t have to come to a fire call if they don’t want to; they can just walk away and not come back. But I denied their resignations,” he said.

It’s difficult to tell how many firefighters remain on the force. According to Buffington, there are about 30 members on the roster, but many are older firefighters who can’t do the same amount of work as the younger ones.

“These guys (older guys)  will all still respond. Most of the younger guys walked. And the thing with the volunteer department, you need all of them,” Buffington wrote in a Facebook message.

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