Chief’s departure underscores local union turf battles

It was fairly well known in local firefighting circles that the Chelsea Firefighters Union did not see eye to eye with Chief Chuck Fothergill.

Fothergill threw in the towel two weeks ago when he announced his retirement – a sudden move – but not entirely unexpected.

Chief Fothergill wasn’t one for petty dramas, name-calling or union inspired disobedience campaigns.

Like his father before him, he was a firefighter’s firefighter, a no nonsense guy who lived and breathed the brotherhood that firefighters share.

Some Chelsea firefighters, in fact most Chelsea firefighters according to union members, were pleased to see him go, although he remains the chief until October 31.

The president of the local firefighters union, Lt. Brian Capistran, has called Fothergill a traitor. He claims the entire department is lined up behind him in that belief.

Fothergill has said that unions take positions he sometimes doesn’t agree with and that these are trying times.

He said he has done everything he could to avert layoffs and interruption of services. In fact, Fothergill was instrumental in bringing state and federal aid to the local fire department to save jobs and to fund overtime recently.

One of the chief issues Fothergill was rebuked for by the union was that he tried to change the requirements for the head of fire truck maintenance operation.

The union refused to go along with Fothergill’s professional belief that the person working on the trucks and their brakes and systems should be certified.

This apparently became a union-chief battle, with the chief requiring his men to wear a certain shirt and the union refusing to wear the shirt unless the requirement was dropped. If the shirt requirement was dropped, the union said it would go along with the certification.

“We wouldn’t agree to change the uniform policy in order to provide more safety for the firefighters when they respond to calls,” Ash said.

Capistran said earlier this week that he has informed his union members to wear the shirts as required.

He said he hoped the union and the city could work out their differences.

The Chelsea Fire Department has a special place in the city, especially because this is a city that has nearly burned to the ground in one century.

But this is a new century.

Everything has changed.

There are fewer fires than ever before.

Firefighting and safety standards are way in advance of what they used to be.

The vast majority of responses are for medical aid.

Chief Fothergill leaving or being pushed out, however one chooses to view it, is about union tactics and personality conflicts.

Fothergill leaving the way he did, the union acting the way it did, signals the beginning of a new era, observers believe.

Retired Holyoke Fire Chief David LaFonde has been named the interim chief.

In Fothergill’s mind, everyone must follow the rules.

“As the chief, I’m the one who must enforce the rules and lead the department,” he said.

A hearing is set for November 1 for the firefighters who disobeyed the uniform orders.

For City manager Ash and for the firefighters involved, it will likely be a moment of truth.

10 comments for “Chief’s departure underscores local union turf battles

  1. Anonymous
    October 28, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Don’t make Fothergill out to be a hero. All of the protections of the contract that he used to his benefit as a firefighter he disregarged as chief. He decided that the contract didn’t exist when he became chief. Times got tough for him and he ran. He could have suspended members on the spot October 1st,but he didn’t. He hid behind Jay Ash because he is spineless. Unless you want to print the stuff that he did while he was a firefighter and let the public know the real facts don’t make him out to be a saint.

  2. Anonymous
    October 28, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Good grief! Good Luck with Lafond!!! He thought he was God in Holyoke. Power hunry, Ego Trip bufone,,,A wannabe politician. but has a reputation State wide….

  3. Anonymous
    October 29, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    In Fothergill’s mind, everyone must follow the rules.

    In the union’s mind, Fothergill also must follow the collective bargaining agreement as well as MGL 150E.

  4. Anonymous
    October 29, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Sounds like you got your info from Fothergill because its all wrong! Union was 100% in favor of hiring the most qualified mechanic including the added requirement of EVT certification. The Union wanted compensation for the mechanic where he would have to travel out of state in order to get this EVT Certification and then maintain it. The City refused to bargain in good faith with the Union. And where did you get your fire statistics, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office, fire increased in Chelsea by 9% last year. Arson fires increased by 57%! It was never about a uniform shirt, which by the way provides absolutely no additional safety to firefighters.

  5. Anonymous
    October 29, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Union members are eager for a “moment of truth”. That’s why the Union requested all disciplinary hearings be open to the public. The Union has nothing to hide! The public will learn how Fothergill completely mismanaged this department, wasted money on apparatus the department is unable to use, spent thousands of dollars on equipment and computer software the department cannot use, the list goes on and on. Can’t wait!!!!

  6. Anonymous
    October 29, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    With the recent rehires, the fire department is like a v-8 engine operating on all cylinders…..

    Looks like we need an EVT certified mechanic, the engine just blew!!!!

  7. Anonymous
    October 30, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    I wonder what ever happed to Work Ethic?…People being proud of their professions and listening to their superiors? Not wanting to have certified mechanics work on a fire truck is ridiculous…Just what we need is to lose more firefighters when equipment fails on a truck due to the Union wanting to have “backyard mechanics” work on the equipment…And refusing to wear a regulation type of uniform that is REQUIRED and is also for their own safety being refused by grown adults is like seeing a temper tantrum being taken by a 2 year old child….How sad that there are thousands of people out of work and all the people who
    are on the list who want to become firefighters can’t get the job they want and these immature firefighters have a good job and HAD a Chief who fought for them and their safety…..You all need to grow up!!!!

  8. Anonymous
    October 30, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    Work Ethic??? Good example set by Fothergill who was out more days than anyone!! Chelsea Fire has never had a mechanic who was not certified. Get your facts straight moron. Your right about one thing, it would be nice to have a Chief who fought for our safety and us. Instead we had Fothergill who only cared about one thing, himself. Read his letter that was published in the paper, did he ever mention anything about working with other members of the department? The answer is NO! It was all I, I, I, and me, me, me. He was great for taking credit for the hard work of others. Grants? All he did was hire a grant writer, yet he credits himself for securing all kinds of grant money. Now that he’s gone the Chelsea Fire Department can return to the proud and professional department it once was!

  9. October 31, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    pt I think your post says alot about your character. You are uninformed and assume that the firefighters union does not care about the safety of the apparatus these fine men ride on everyday. Its bull!! Regulation type uniform? Obviously you assume their uniforms are regulated and prevent them from being burned etc. Their work uniforms do not prevent them from being burned or offer any safety purpose what so ever. The uniform that is related to this article is simply a button down shirt with an embroided emblem on them, and a patch. The golf shirts the same minus the patch. The next time you’re in Chelsea why not make it a point to go up and shake the hands of these fine men for the job they perform every day and night keeping their community safe. The MEN in this Dept will always stand together, and will always be proud to serve their community!!

  10. Anonymous
    November 2, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    This is for all the morons below….Chelseapride, Dukie, Chucklestheclown justsayingchelsea , and lets not forget
    whatsthatsmell …..Sounds like a witch hunt here….Dukie is a sexist and talks about all the fine MEN…What about the women? What have any of you done to better yourselves and rise up the ranks? This is a witch hunt. When Fothergill was one of you he was OK. He chose to rise up the ranks and now you have all turned your backs on him and taken a temper tantrum like a small child…Male or female….Unlike Dukie, I do include women…You morons will have a new Chief. I hope he is from another town, or he will get what Fothergill got…,You also need a new Union head…This one listens or encourages everyone to act like spoiled cjildren…(Boys and Girls)…Then, they need new firefighters..Ones who are not cry babies like the city of Chelsea have….Real men AND WOMEN….I do hope you all get what you deserve….Grow up !!!!

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