NEWBURGH, Maine — All 11 members of Newburgh’s volunteer fire department quit their jobs after the town selectmen refused to reinstate the former chief, officials said.
The selectmen met Monday to vote whether to reinstate former Chief Glen Williamson, who officially resigned in August. He worked for the department for more than 20 years, the last 10 as chief earning $4,000 a year, he said. During the meeting, the firefighters presented the selectmen with a list of demands, which were rejected, according to a statement from the town.
That’s when the firefighters and former chief walked out.
“The board was presented with a list of three demands by representatives of the fire department,” the town’s statement said. “These demands were limiting in having a workable relationship with the chief and were rejected. Because of this rejection, the fire department personnel in attendance resigned en masse.”
Town Manager Cynthia Grant said the three-person town selectboard endorsed her pick for new chief, Ralph Shaw, during the meeting.
The firefighters had demanded that Williamson be reinstated, that he get his job back without having to apply for it, and that he be allowed to have a liaison, or witness, whenever he met with selectmen or the town manager, said former firefighter Scott Reglin, who spoke for the department at the meeting and was among those who quit in protest. A petition to reinstate Williamson, which was signed by more than 100 residents, was presented to town leaders two weeks ago, he said.
“They [the selectmen] seemed to be already prepared for a walk out,” Reglin said. “It’s pretty sad.”
The department responds to around 50 to 60 serious fires or accidents annually, the former chief said.
Newburgh officials have “been conferring with neighboring towns and their fire departments in anticipation” of the action, the town’s statement said.
Hampden and Carmel officials said their fire departments would respond if there was a fire or other emergency in Newburgh. Dixmont, Hermon, Levant, Winterport and the Maine National Guard in Bangor also are mutual aid partners who would be called.
“Right now, we have all quit,” Williamson, who said he’d been serving as acting chief without pay even though he resigned Aug. 2, said. “The firefighters gave her [the town manager] and the selectmen an ultimatum to put me back in as chief or they were walking. The board said they didn’t like ultimatums, so we walked.”
Williamson said he had resigned at a selectmen’s meeting after years of disagreement with the town manager, but members of his department asked him to return to the post the following day.
Carmel Fire Chief Ryan Simpson said word of the mass quitting spread quickly among local firefighters. Hampden Public Safety Director Joe Rogers was informed of the mass departure Tuesday morning by the Bangor Daily News.
“Hopefully they can find a solution to this mass walkout,” Rogers said. “Because most of us do this because we want to help.”
Williamson admitted he’s “hard headed” and “hard to work with” but said he’s worked for two decades for the benefit of the town and the department’s firefighters.
“I feel terrible for the town and I feel terrible for the firemen,” Williamson said. “A couple have already asked for letters of recommendations to work at other department, and one has expressed interested in working with the new chief.”
“I wish him luck,” Williamson said later of Shaw.
Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.