NEWPORT, Maine — Newport has a new fire chief and town officials are looking forward to a close working relationship in the wake of a fractious meeting Wednesday night.
They hope that being prepared and looking forward to fire and police regionalization, they will be ahead of the curve and save both money and indecision.
Greg Buckland, who had been the acting fire chief for the past two weeks, said Thursday morning that he would accept the selectmen’s appointment as chief.
“We just started to get things going well,” he said. “Now we will be able to continue that. Everyone put their cards on the table [Wednesday night]. It was a difficult conversation but one that had to happen.”
The frank and sometimes heated 90-minute conversation among firefighters, selectmen, the police chief and the town manager centered on how well, or poorly, the town departments work together.
The rift was rooted in a police investigation into possible criminal mischief in the Fire Department. Police Chief Leonard Macdaid has been interviewing firefighters after three air packs were found with loose fittings. Macdaid is treating the incident as a criminal event.
Firefighters maintain that the fittings were left loose accidentally and it amounts to poor maintenance rather than sabotage. There are many hurt feelings over the investigation.
Firefighters felt additionally betrayed when Wednesday night, in a surprise move unknown even to selectmen, Town Manager James Ricker, rather than appoint Buckland chief, initially proposed a totally new position, that of public safety director. He recommended that Macdaid fill that job, which would put him in the dual role of fire and police chief.
Macdaid said Thursday that before Wednesday’s meeting he didn’t think there was a problem between the fire and police officers, “and I still don’t think so now.”
“I think people perceived that what was taking place was undermining the Fire Department,” he said. “That was never the intent. The main goal is to keep Newport safe and work together.”
Macdaid said that it makes sense to look at creating the position. “I don’t care who the director is, but the town needs to look seriously at this to save money. Anytime you combine two services, you save money,” Macdaid said. “Anytime you can use the same people for more than one service, you save money.”
Macdaid said that since the state already has regionalized the jail system and the school systems, police and fire services are likely to be next.
“I’d like to see us be the leader here,” he said. “I’d rather do it on our terms, before we are told what we have to do.”
Ricker did not return calls for information Thursday.