Another Lawsuit Looms for Westbrook

The Westbrook, Maine Fire Department has seen its share of legal battles over the past 15 years, and it would seem that another one is on the horizon. Former Fire Chief Daniel Brock, in office only a year, was let go immediately upon newly elected Mayor Colleen Hilton’s inauguration on January 15, 2010.

Brock had been brought in from the outside to help clean up a department in turmoil, but the new mayor wanted her own man. She promptly appointed the police chief to serve as acting fire chief.

However, Chief Brock obtained legal counsel, and a quick check of the City Charter disclosed that the fire chief is entitled to serve “until retirement, resignation or death, or removal for good and sufficient cause, on complaint of the mayor, such complaint being sustained by a majority vote of the full council.”

Even faced with that language, Mayor Hilton remained defiant claiming the charter provision doesn’t apply because she “eliminated” the fire chief’s position (remember… the job she gave to the police chief… she forgot to mention in her inauguration speech that she was really eliminating the position and must have misspoken when she said the police chief would be the acting fire chief because you can’t eliminate a position and then assign someone else to do it on an acting basis. Come to think of it, she actually said would "I will not be reappointing the current fire chief"… but hey… it was her first day).

Anyway – the poor taxpayers and the firefighters of Westbrook seem destined for another senseless legal battle, unless cooler heads can prevail. Am I the only one who is tired of politics as usual?

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer’s Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

  • John Murphy

    Thomas “Tip” O’Neill indicates that small town politics shall remain local. OK, so I take poetic license. Looks like a contracts question to the detriment of the firefighters and the community. Another million dollar judgment – what a waste of resources.

  • You know, I understand how an elected official would want to have a department head she can trust. However, the flip side of that is that you entice a professional to leave a steady job, move to your community to help you straighten out a problem – and then a year later – not due to performance issues – but due to a change in administrations, the guy is sent packing… its not fair.
    Then add to that a pretty clear charter violation, and now the mayor is doing the two-step on what she “really” meant in her inaugural speech….. Its too bad. The department needs leadership, not a messy lawsuit.

  • Just found this video…. they are “comfortable” with their decision…. probably because the taxpayers will have to pay for their mistake.

  • Michael Cossey

    Why does it seem that more cities want the police chief to run the fire department, too? Is there a city where the fire chief gets to run the police department?

  • Michael – GREAT question!
    I agree – it seems like politicians are increasingly relying on police chiefs to run fire departments – and that trend should concern all firefighters and fire service leaders. A police chief has about as much business running a fire department as I do commanding an aircraft carrier!
    But the cause of that trend – rests with us. The fire service – the brotherhood – has created a culture that finds it difficult – if not impossible – to effectively discipline ourselves. We always find excuses not to discipline our own… he’s a good guy, we don’t want to hurt his family, etc. etc. We oppose efforts to impose discipline, and ridicule efforts to strengthen disciplinary efforts.
    The result can be seen in departments across the country that have multiple “front-page” – “news at 6” disciplinary problems that makes those outside the organization question who is in charge – the chief or the firefighters.
    I cover this issue in the Managing Fire Service Liability & Safety Best Practices class. In addition, John Murphy and I will be offering a 2 day program on Fire Service Administrative Investigations & Discipline starting this summer through LLRMI (
    The bottom line – either we keep our own house in order, or someone will do it for us! The use of police chiefs to run fire department should be a wake up call to us all!

  • John Murphy

    OK, I found one – Redmond Washington. The Fire Chief is running the Police Department.
    Is that a step up?

  • Man bites dog…..

  • You gotta love politics. Remember Mayor Hilton said the City didn’t owe Chief Brock a termination hearing because his position was eliminated… er… what ever it was??? Well now it seems she has decided to hire two consultants to run the fire department.
    Small town politics. Here’s the story!


Check Also

Florida Firefighter Awarded $245k for Gender Discrimination

A federal court jury has awarded a Tampa firefighter $245,000 for sex discrimination. Tanja Vidovic was awarded the verdict last week following a four-week trial. She alleged gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation.

FDNY Sued Again Over Race Discrimination

Seven civilian employees of FDNY have filed a 59 page civil suit in federal court alleging that wide-ranging and systemic race discrimination persists in the department. The suit was filed December 1, 2017 seeking class action status for three groups of individuals, identified as “Job Selection Class”, “Compensation Class”, “EMS Lieutenant Class”