Falmouth Fire-EMS Department exterior

FALMOUTH — Two longtime members of the Falmouth Fire Department alleged unacceptable working conditions in sudden resignations they tendered late last month, but the town manager is refuting their claim.

Lt. Erik Knudsen, left, and Falmouth Fire Chief Howard Rice at the Foreside Fire Station. FILE

Town Manager Nathan Poore has responded to the allegations by referencing a survey taken by members of the department last year that showed an overwhelming number of employees felt the town provided an exemplary work environment.

“I have also not received complaints from other current members or from residents for the service received by the Department,” Poore said via email.

After dedicating almost 50 years to the department, Erik Knudsen wrote in his letter of resignation to Chief Howard Rice dated Oct. 24 that he felt he could no longer remain in the town’s employ.

Sarah Beliveau, a paramedic who spent 17 years with the department, said, “I very much regret that feel I can no longer serve on the department, no longer serve my town,” in her letter of resignation to Rice on Oct. 23.

In his resignation letter, Knudsen wrote: “Completing Paramedic school and receiving my license was, I thought, an investment in my future with the department. I didn’t anticipate that it would dovetail so closely with the transition from a call department to full time.  Although I expected there would be some disenfranchisement of existing employees associated with the transition, I didn’t expect that it would be so quick and purposeful.  It’s a shame that those of us who have served so long and so faithfully, not for a paycheck but for the satisfaction of helping our community, are not valued more.”

Knudsen started his long career with the department as a volunteer firefighter in high school. This past summer, he completed training to become a paramedic.

Rice, Knudsen and Beliveau have all declined multiple requests for comment.

Poore declined to say how he would respond to residents who are concerned about the public safety department, instead referring them to a survey conducted last year with members of Falmouth Fire-EMT.

According to that survey’s results, in a question about Falmouth Fire-EMS members’ views of officers, almost 90% agreed that their supervisors treat them fairly. Around 87% agreed that it is easy to talk to the officers, and about 75% said they are confident in their officers’ decision-making.

About 85% said they are well-informed about what happens at Falmouth Fire-EMS, while around 90% of respondents said they would strongly recommend volunteering for the department.

The survey was conducted by Criterion Associates and 45 members of the Falmouth Fire-EMS department participated. The survey was commissioned because the department was hiring new staff, and Rice wished to gauge the work environment before bringing on new personnel.

According to Poore, the Falmouth Fire-EMS Department has 87 members, 15 of whom are full-time employees. There are 31 part-time employees, and the remainder are paid per call firefighters and EMTs.

Poore said he has met with Knudsen and Beliveau for exit interviews and is following up with Rice and Assistant Town Manager Amy Lamontagne.

Both colleagues and residents have voiced support for Knudsen and Beliveau through letters to the editor at The Forecaster and those sent to Falmouth Town Hall, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

I don’t say this lightly Sarah and Erik epitomize everything that is righteous and good about the Falmouth Fire Department and will be irreplaceable,” said Ronald Dearth of Falmouth, a per diem medic, in an email to Poore. 

Jeffrey Eaton of Falmouth, a volunteer with Falmouth Fire-EMS since August 2018, said, “My top choice whenever my schedule allowed for it was to work with Sarah and Erik. In an organization full of hard-working individuals, Sarah and Erik were exemplary. I believe they were the two most conscientious, thorough, and patient-focused people I have met at Falmouth Fire-EMS.”

Falmouth resident Lisa K. Nash described Knudsen and Beliveau as “two of the ‘faces of Falmouth'” in a letter to the editor earlier this month.

“When long time, dedicated, competent, employees leave unexpectedly there is a problem and it needs to be corrected,” Nash said, “Representatives from the town indicated that it was a “personnel” matter. That makes me believe that something is wrong within the department and there needs to be a thorough internal review.”

“Sarah Beliveau had 17 years of service and Erik Knudsen had 47 years of service,” Poore said. “They have been dedicated employees who provided exemplary service to the community. It is unfortunate that they have submitted their resignations.”

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