June 22, 2018
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South Thomaston fire chief says he was blindsided when selectmen didn’t reappoint him

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

SOUTH THOMASTON, Maine — The town’s fire chief said he was blindsided last week when the selectmen voted to hold off on several annual reappointments, including his own.

And Bryan Calderwood said he was further shocked when selectmen announced they would take applications from within the department for the chief’s position.

But one member of the board said that the move should not be interpreted in the wrong way.

“The board clearly recognizes the enormous service Bryan has given the town in the past seven years,” Selectwoman Dorothy Meriweather said.“ This is not a reflection of his service.”

Instead, she said, the appointment of officials is an important duty for the board and there should more thought put into it. She said in a previous term on the board, she felt one of her mistakes was voting for all the reappointments without knowing what type of job they were doing.

Meriwether said the three-member board agreed to name Calderwood interim chief until a decision is made. Board Chairman Robert Branco could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

At the board’s April 10 meeting, the members voted to postpone until April 30 a vote on the reappointments of the fire chief, code enforcement officer, shellfish warden, emergency management agency director, E-911 coordinator and plumbing inspector.

South Thomaston does not have a town manager and the board makes those personnel decisions. Reappointments are generally a routine matter with little discussion.

Meriwether, who was elected at last month’s annual town meeting, said public safety is a top priority for the town and she felt she owed it to the residents and the employees themselves that appointments were done properly.

Calderwood said Tuesday he could have accepted that explanation if the board was consistent and postponed the reappointment of all staff. But the board reappointed the town office staff and emergency medical service director, he said.

In addition, Calderwood pointed out that selectmen announced they would take applications from any qualified South Thomaston firefighter for the chief’s position.

Meriwether said Calderwood is eligible to apply and she assumes he will seek the post. The board will interview candidates on April 28, two days before they meet next on the reappointments.

“This came out of the blue. I was blindsided,” Calderwood said.

He said none of the selectmen had come to him before the meeting with concerns or questions. At the April 10 meeting, he said, selectmen did bring up issues such as why he ordered a thermal imaging camera without notifying them first. He said the money was in the budget approved by voters. He said he has not purchased it but simply ordered it.

Calderwood said he has worked on upgrading training for firefighters and has been successful in obtaining grants for the department.

Residents approved the department’s 2013 budget last month for $103,000. The department responded to 47 calls in 2012, ranging from structure fires to motor vehicle accidents.

Calderwood has been with the department for 21 years and was appointed chief seven years ago.

Calderwood said he turned in an application Tuesday.

“I have always had an open-door policy. But no one came in to ask any questions,” he said.

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