Island Falls fire chief back after town dispute

Posted Oct. 04, 2009, at 10:25 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:40 a.m.

ISLAND FALLS, Maine — After a dustup lasting more than a month that left the town without its fire chief and ambulance director, prompted other emergency services personnel to resign and forced the town to scramble to find high-level ambulance coverage for itself and neighboring towns, the fire chief and ambulance director has agreed to go back on the job.

Joshua McNally agreed Thursday to return, Town Clerk Cheryl McNally said late Friday.

Cheryl McNally, who is not related to the chief, said the decision came after the chief and ambulance director submitted a proposal to the Board of Selectmen that was accepted.

Speaking for the first time since his resignation, Joshua McNally said he told selectmen he would return to his post for 90 days to give them a chance to come to a conclusion about what the future of the department should look like.

“I am still a citizen here, and I hate to see the town have no fire and ambulance service,” he said Sunday afternoon. “The selectmen did agree to my proposal and I hope to get more support from them in the future.”

The department began to unravel when Paul Breton II, 26, then the deputy chief of the Island Falls Fire Department and a paramedic in the town’s ambulance department, resigned in early July after being charged with felony theft.

Maine State Police allege that Breton misappropriated about $10,000 in town funds by presenting to the town receipts for reimbursement for purchases unrelated to the Fire Department he had made from various businesses.

Joshua McNally confirmed Sunday that in the aftermath of the incident with Breton he experienced harassment, and said there was a lack of support from selectmen. In late August, he informed selectmen he would resign in 30 days.

At the time of his resignation, McNally, a paramedic, oversaw an ambulance department that provided services to Island Falls, Dyer Brook, Crystal and Oakfield.

The service’s two paramedics — McNally and Breton — could perform numerous high-level procedures, including intubations, medication administration and other advanced life support procedures. The ambulance department also employed emergency medical technicians, who cannot perform as many procedures as paramed-ics.

Once Breton and McNally departed, the ambulance service was staffed only by EMTs. The EMTs could not provide the level of service offered when paramedics were on board. The ambulance service could not provide advanced life support services.

Selectmen did not immediately begin searching for paramedics. They held the special meeting with only a few hours left of McNally’s employment.

Selectmen said during the special meeting that McNally told them he would hire paramedics and complete all the necessary chores required to transition out of his job before his 30 days were up. In the meantime, selectmen said, each board member was talking individually with McNally in hopes of getting him to rescind his resignation.

He did not.

McNally said Sunday that the night before a special meeting late last month, he offered to stay on the job if a proposal, similar to the one that selectmen just accepted, were approved. The selectmen refused, according to McNally.

During the special meeting, one audience member suggested that Breton be rehired to run the department temporarily.

He was not. McNally confirmed that selectmen also had discussed the idea in his presence, which “was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“I knew then that I had to get done,” said the chief.

Frustrated representatives from the contracting towns also attended the special meeting. By the end of the session, all of the towns that contracted with Island Falls for ambulance service had found high-level temporary coverage through other ambulance departments.

The town immediately advertised for two paramedics and is still accepting applications.

McNally said that some of the terms of his present proposal to return include getting permission to form a board of directors to help him run the business end of the ambulance department and that all of the employees who resigned with him be reinstated.

McNally said his decision to return for three months could end up being permanent.

The news will please residents who showed up at the special town meeting, praising McNally and blasting selectmen for not giving the chief enough support or doing enough to keep him on the job.

McNally said Sunday he doubted that the town would be able to convince the communities that once contracted with it for ambulance service to come back.

“There is no way,” he said.

With those towns gone, he pointed out, the revenue the town received for providing them with ambulance services has disappeared as well.

“It is going to be very hard for the selectmen to find paramedics to work here,” said McNally. “There is no revenue to do that now because we lost those contracts.”

McNally said some of the people who resigned when he did have come back to their posts. He stressed that he did not ask anyone to quit when he resigned.

“I hope that with me coming back, I can get everyone back and get them settled and get back to work,” said the chief. “To do that, I need the support of the selectmen and so does my crew.”

McNally stopped short of saying he was happy to be back.

“I am still really upset over what happened,” he admitted. “But the townspeople deserve an ambulance service that is competent and is going to be there to respond to an emergency in a timely manner.”

The town clerk said a meeting will be held this week to determine how the town will move forward.

Several selectmen could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

jlynds@bangordailynews.net

538-6567

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