NH Fire Chief Resigns as Outside Expert Probes Department

Firefighter facing away with turnout gear

Patrick Cronin

Portsmouth Herald, N.H.

(MCT)

Apr. 27—HAMPTON — Fire Chief Jamie Ayotte has handed in his resignation as a study conducted by an independent consultant on the department and its management is ongoing.

Ayotte is resigning effective May 21, according to Hampton Selectmen Chairman Rusty Bridle.

In the two-sentence letter, Ayotte doesn’t give a reason for his resignation but states, “Thank you all for the opportunity to serve.”

Ayotte, who was appointed chief in 2015, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Bridle said he doesn’t know if the ongoing study on the department had anything to do with his resignation.

“He didn’t say,” Bridle said. “He just said he was resigning effective May 21 … It’s his choice. He came into the department at a trying time. I think he felt he tried to do the best job he could, and I guess he felt it was time to move on. I wish him well. I think he’s a good man.”

Ayotte was named chief in 2015 after serving three years as the town’s deputy chief. 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 hired consultant Richard Marinucci, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, to look at the department in its entirety after concerns were expressed by Fire Department employees with the current leadership.

Jed Carpentier, president of Hampton’s Professional Firefighters Local 2664, said in February that issues with leadership, specifically Ayotte, have been bubbling over in the background for some time. Chief among those is the lack of short and long-term strategic planning for the department, “lack of effective communication,” which has impacted morale, and the “hesitancy from the top to relinquish or delegate authority,” Carpentier said at the time.

Marinucci’s hiring was based on the recommendation of three retired fire officials, Don Bliss, former Hampton fire chief William “Skip” Sullivan and retired Hampton fire captain Dave Lang.

Marinucci has 39 years of experience in the fire service and 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.”

His charge, according to the selectmen’s vote to bring in the consultant, was to analyze the current administration of the Fire Department, its organizational structure and managerial systems and whether the department adheres to state statute RSA 154, which dictates the responsibilities of fire departments and their leadership.

Bridle said Ayotte’s departure will have no impact on the study.

The study, he said, was not just about management but the department as a whole.

“We had some stuff called into question around Christmas time, and that’s why we decided to do this study,” Bridle said. “I think we should let the study move forward and take a good hard look at it. It’s not something that should sit on a shelf.”

Town Manager Jamie Sullivan said the goals of the Board of Selectmen in seeking the report were to “look at all aspects of the department to identify our strengths and areas in need of improvement.”

“I want to make sure we have the proper manpower and how we are allocating the manpower,” Bridle said. “I want to make sure our guys reach their full potential and what we are doing for training is the right and proper stuff. I think (the final report) will tell us exactly what is going on, where the deficiencies are and where we excel at.”

Selectman Regina Barnes said she’s confident Marinucci will present options both short and long-term goals for the department.

“His independent view will be beneficial,” Barnes said.

Marinucci recently told selectmen that a final report with findings and recommendations will be issued in a month or two.

He is conducting the $25,000 study with a team, including Lisa Jones, a retired deputy fire chief of the Phoenix, Arizona Fire Department, and Bloomfield, Michigan Fire Chief Greg Flynn.

Marinucci previously told selectmen that they would be looking at “all aspects” of the department, from fire suppression to fire prevention to EMS. They will also look at the community’s fire risks, personnel and staffing and how it compares to national standards.

As part of the study, Marinucci has been reviewing department policies and procedures and local ordinances affecting the department, organizational charts and any relevant correspondence.

He and his team also spent a week in Hampton interviewing employees as well as management.

Sullivan said Marinucci interviewed Ayotte, Acting Deputy Chief Michael McMahon and union president Jed Carpentier as well as the captains and lieutenants and firefighters on Wednesday, April 14, and Thursday, April 15. He also interviewed retired deputy chief Justin Cutting, retired chief William “Skip” Sullivan, Police Chief David Hobbs, Public Works Director Chris Jacobs, DPW Deputy Director Jen Hale, Finance Director Kristi Pulliam and John Nyhan, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce.

Marinucci told selectmen they still have a few more interviews to conduct and they will also be issuing a survey to the community “to give everyone a fair opportunity to provide input.”

Sullivan said the completed final report will be made public and Marinucci will present his findings to the board.

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Fire Engineering editorial note: Richard Marinucci is a longtime contributor and editorial advisor to Fire Engineering magazine and other Clarion Fire & Rescue properties.

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