EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Assistant Fire Chief John Miner has resigned from the post because he says the Fire Department’s lax operation could threaten public and firefighter safety, he said Tuesday.
Miner, 59, cited what he called the department’s “lack of organizational structure, lack of communications, communication problems and lack of discipline” as his reasons for stepping down from the volunteer, appointed post effective Monday.
A 28-year veteran with 20 years of full-time experience, Miner will remain with the department — in which 29 part-time, full-time and volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians work — as a paid, full-time firefighter, he said.
“This situation has resulted with the inconsistent way the department operates and little definition of the roles and expectations of department members,” Miner wrote in a letter to Fire Chief Les Brown on Monday. “I have found that this environment results in me feeling ineffective as the assistant chief.”
Brown, 53, disagreed with Miner’s assessment.
“I feel that the safety of my department comes first, that we have grown with an ambulance service to an extreme,” he said Tuesday. “I have very qualified people working for me. We get a lot of positive comments from the public and the majority of the crew that works for me.
“I believe my department is not compromised,” Brown added. “We are fighting fires as well as any department in the state. We have the very best of equipment in the state and we maintain it as well as anyone. I really don’t know where all this is coming from.”
Mark Scally, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the board plans to discuss the issue with Brown and possibly Miner at a meeting next week. Complaints from within the department of bad morale and other issues led Selectman James Federico to start looking into department issues last month, Scally said.
“I have been satisfied with Chief Brown’s performance,” Scally said Tuesday, “but justified criticism is just that, and coming from John Miner, I would have to take it seriously, because he is a smart man and a serious man.
“John Miner is an erudite, succinct individual, and it does not bode well that he feels this way,” Scally added.
Miner said the department lacks a mission statement and a defined scope of operations, and has no standard operating guidelines. “None of this is written down and circulated so that everybody understands what their job is,” he said.
“It makes me nervous,” he added. “I am hoping that we continue to get by, but I don’t really feel we are doing anything anywhere near the best we could be doing.
“This is a dangerous job. We are supposed to manage risk and one of the ways you do that is to pay attention to details, because that’s what prevents people from getting hurt,” Miner added.
Capt. Peter Larlee, a part-time firefighter, said the department does have standard guidelines. He attributed the resignation to a rift between Miner and Brown that might have its roots in Brown’s not hiring a replacement for a full-time firefighter who recently left.
Instead, “five or six guys,” part-timers, fill in for him, Larlee said, possibly leading to variations in procedures.
“We all have a set of rules that we have to follow, but anybody in that position may make a different decision,” Larlee said. The department also has “a lot of shuffling” among call fire crews and ambulances, he said.
“There are a lot of different guys working there now and everybody has to make decisions from one time to another,” he added.
Brown could not be reached Tuesday evening to comment on Miner’s and Larlee’s conflicting statements on the Fire Department’s guidelines.
Larlee didn’t agree with Miner’s going public with his resignation, but said Miner is a respected individual within the department.
“He is extremely smart. Everybody respects him,” Larlee said. “He has probably forgot more than I know. He is just a topnotch firefighter. … The guy can fix anything, do anything.”
Brown also is respected. The town’s top firefighter since 1991, Brown was recognized by Gov. John Baldacci last month for his outstanding achievements as an emergency medical service worker at the 22nd annual Maine EMS ceremony in Augusta, state officials said.
Brown and Judith Wills of NorthStar EMS of Carrabassett Valley received lifetime achievement awards. He was among 10 individuals and institutions recognized by state officials.
He also has earned accolades from town officials for helping to expand the town ambulance service.