Westbrook Replaces Its Fire Chief

Over the past few months, I have written twice about the Westbrook, Maine Fire Department, and the difficulty they seem to be having in addressing allegations of sexual harassment. Now comes word that the newly elected mayor has decided to replace the fire chief.

Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton, announced during her inauguration speech on January 4, 2010, that she would not be reappointing Fire Chief Daniel Brock. Her decision effectively fires the chief, and the Mayor immediately appointed the police chief to serve as acting fire chief. Chief Brock, who came to Westbrook from the outside, had only been appointed a year ago. He is not the first casualty of the cultural problems within the department. Sexual harassment allegations date back fifteen years, and led to the ouster of Chief Gary Littlefield in 2008.

Hopefully the mayor is interested in doing more than leveraging the public's frustration with the status quo by playing musical chairs with her fire chief. That kind of superficial reorganization followed by the appointment of a politically loyal chief can only contribute to long term cultural problems remaining long term cultural problems. As the linked article indicates, she is talking a good game, including bringing in outside consultants and looking into regionalization. But the root issues need to be addressed in the interim, not ignored or postponed.

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.

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