WEST GARDINER, Maine — Vicki Dill, who became the town’s first female fire chief in March after agreeing to drop a 2009 sexual discrimination lawsuit against the town, was fired because she was unqualified for the job, a fire official said Tuesday.
“There is no way she’s qualified to be chief — she doesn’t even know how to operate a firetruck,” said Scott Taylor, president of the West Gardiner Firemen’s Association.
“She is no longer the fire chief,” confirmed Town Clerk Heidi Peckham.
Selectmen made the decision to replace Dill at their May 2 meeting, Peckham said.
Dill sued the town in 2009 claiming discrimination because she is a woman after members of the firemen’s association voted her in as chief and selectmen instead chose Chris McLaughlin, a full-time firefighter with the Augusta Fire Department, Taylor said.
The settlement agreement came to light when a resident at the March 23 annual town meeting asked for details about a $5,000 reimbursement to the Maine Municipal Association Property and Casualty Pool and town officials said they could not discuss the matter, Taylor said.
Firefighters knew in February that Dill was going to be appointed chief because town officials had informed McLaughlin that he had to step down that month.
“I can tell you that she was appointed chief back in February and that she had a lawsuit against the town,” Taylor said. “She would not be sworn in until March. She wouldn’t do it until the lawsuit was settled.”
Since her hiring, Dill had yet to pick a deputy fire chief and command staff, he said.
A representative of the Maine Human Rights Commission reached Tuesday said she could not release any details about the complaint Dill filed against the town.
“Right now, that is still an open case,” she said.
Details about the settlement agreement have not been provided to firefighters, but other town officials have said, “It was written into the agreement that she had to be able to operate the [fire] truck by the first of May,” Taylor said.
Firefighters were at the May 2 selectmen’s meeting and, when asked, told town leaders that she was still not qualified to drive a firetruck and operate other equipment, which selectmen recently made a requirement for the fire chief, the association president said.
“The selectmen wrote up exactly what they wanted for qualifications to be chief. We never had anything [before],” Taylor said. “Now, they’re black and white.”
In addition to knowing how to use all of the town’s firefighting equipment, the chief also has to be able to get along with fellow firefighters as well as municipal, state and federal officials.
When selectmen learned at their May 2 meeting that Dill was out of town but had not informed any of her fellow firefighters, “that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Taylor said.
That night, they reappointed McLaughlin as chief, the firemen’s association president said.
“He’s qualified,” Taylor said of McLaughlin. “He’s a full-time firefighter in Augusta and he’s got all his certifications.”
Repeated messages left Tuesday for Dill at her home and on her cellphone, and with town selectmen and the town’s attorney, Jonathan Brogan, were not immediately returned.