Portsmouth Herald, N.H.
Feb. 17—HAMPTON — A former president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs will be coming to Hampton to perform a study of the town’s Fire Department as the fire chief’s leadership is being questioned by the firefighter’s union.
Selectmen voted unanimously recently to hire retired fire chief Richard Marinucci as an independent consultant to perform a comprehensive study for a sum not to exceed $25,000.
Marinucci, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has 39 years of experience in the fire service, 32 years as chief for the Farmington Hills Fire Department and the Northville Township Fire Department. He also was the author of the “Fire Chief’s Guide to Administration and Management” and the editor of the seventh edition of the “Fire Chief’s Handbook.”
The study comes on the heels of a motion made by Selectman Mary-Louise Woolsey to bring in an independent consultant to take a look at the department.
Committee to be named
Woolsey said she made the motion because she has heard “little rumblings” about issues that had been “flying under the radar” at the department for some time.
“We have to do something to make sure our Fire Department is not in the middle of a mess and not having the proper guidance,” Woolsey said.
There are a number of red flags that led her to believe there are issues of concern, she said, including the recent retirement of 24-year Hampton firefighter and Deputy Fire Chief Justin Cutting.
Woolsey also expressed concern that Hampton Fire Department is having a hard time recruiting and retaining firefighters, a sign there are issues in the ranks.
“The last thing we need to have (is) an emergency service Fire Department at war within itself,” Woolsey said.
Jed Carpentier, president of Hampton’s Professional Firefighters Local 2664, confirmed Monday they have concerns with the current leadership, specifically Fire Chief Jamie Ayotte.
Carpentier said he has spoken with his members and interviewed five different groups of firefighters, who all expressed similar concerns with leadership. Chief among those issues is the lack of short and long-term strategic planning for the department.
“I think if you interviewed 10 different people from the Fire Department you would not get a consensus on what our goals and objectives are for the next three months, year, three years or five years,” Carpentier said. “It doesn’t exist, and it hasn’t for a long time.”
Other issues are “lack of effective communication,” which has impacted morale, and the “hesitancy from the top to relinquish or delegate authority.”
He said the issues have been “bubbling over” in the background for some time, including a discussion of a no-confidence vote in the chief.
Marinucci’s selection was based on the recommendation of three Hampton residents with an extensive background in fire service. They are Don Bliss, former Hampton and Rye fire chief William “Skip” Sullivan and retired Hampton captain Dave Lang, who now serves as assistant to the general president for government affairs and public policy for the International Association of Fire Fighters.
According to Woolsey’s motion, the consultant will analyze the current administration of the Fire Department, its organizational structure and managerial systems and report to the board no later than July 1, 2021.
She also noted in the motion that the investigation should include the degree to which the Fire Department adheres to state statute RSA 154, which dictates the responsibilities of fire departments and their leadership.
Carpentier said the union is pleased the board has decided to bring in the outside consultant.
He said they have brought their concerns to Ayotte but “there is little communication between the chief and I at this point.”
The town’s fire union also recently submitted “a list of problems they perceived” to selectmen, according to Woolsey.
Carpentier said the issues with leadership have not impacted them from doing their jobs and said members take great pride in their work and are “highly self-motivated.”
“The public can always rely on us to do our jobs,” Carpentier said.
Hampton Fire Chief Jamie Ayotte said Monday he would not comment on Woolsey’s motion or the study and referred comment to the town manager.
Ayotte was appointed chief in 2015, after serving as deputy chief since 2012. He replaced former chief Chris Silver who was terminated for “sexual harassment” for allegedly “bullying” and “unfairly” disciplining a female employee and her boyfriend/fiancé, a Hampton firefighter. Silver later sued the town for wrongful termination and the town’s insurance provider settled the case, paying him $40,992 and allowing Silver to resign and retire.
Selectmen Chairman Jim Waddell said the citizen group of fire professionals recommended three potential candidates to perform the study. He said they selected Marinucci for his experience and also that he was willing “to come out here and spend some time in town.”
“I’m hoping we get a good idea on the structure of the department, the management at the department and how we can improve it,” Waddell said. “The town needs to make sure it’s the most efficient, the employees are being treated fairly, that administrators are being treated fairly, and move ahead.”
Marinucci’s background includes serving as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration and he has lectured across the United States and in Canada, Japan, and Europe. He was awarded the Ronny Jack Coleman Leadership Legacy Award from the Center for Public Safety Excellence in 2013.
As part of his team, Marinucci will be bringing with him consultant Lisa Jones, a Phoenix firefighter/paramedic who served as the city’s director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Waddell said the board hopes to have the study completed by early spring or summer.
“We don’t want this to drag on and be just another study,” said Waddell. “It won’t be something that is put on the back burner and not followed through on.”
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