Settlement Ends Career of Ipswich (MA) Deputy Fire Chief

Fire hydrant

Julie Manganis

Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

(MCT)

Feb. 16—IPSWICH — Publicly, his departure from the Ipswich Fire Departmentwas acknowledged with a single line in the minutes of the Nov. 16, 2020 Select Board meeting.

“Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Frenchhas retired after 30 years of service,” read the entry.

It was the conclusion of an episode that had, months earlier, roiled the small department, and created a cloud over an otherwise highly successful career.

French, who had been appointed to the position of deputy chief in 2018, had first joined the department as a call firefighter in 1986. He had received two firefighter service awards from the state, and had taken part in multiple courses, including a recently completed training program for chiefs. He had just been designated as part of the town’s coronavirus-response leadership team.

Then he contracted the virus.

When town officials learned that he had been at the station in violation of protocols, they were forced to quarantine a significant portion of the department, putting some firefighters up at a hotel, where they spent Easter separated from their families.

On May 19, French was demoted to lieutenant, according to state Civil Service records. He appealed. He also subsequently filed a grievance over his designation as fire prevention officer and the town’s failure to offer him overtime shifts, according to settlement documents.

The Civil Service Commissionheld a closed hearing on Aug. 24on the demotion

While a ruling from Civil Service was pending, French and the town manager reached a settlement under which French was restored to his rank of deputy chief, retroactive to May 19, 2020, and agreed to retire effective Nov. 13, 2020.

He was paid just under $26,400 for the salary difference from the time of the demotion until his retirement and unused sick and vacation time, and the town also paid the additional portion of his retirement contributions that would have been owed.

The agreement also allowed French to remain on the payroll, using 13 sick days, four personal days, four vacation days and two paid administrative leave days, until Nov. 13, the anniversary of his promotion.

That gave him two full years at the salary of deputy chief, which in turn boosted his pension, which is based on his three highest-earning years.

The agreement was negotiated by a lawyer for the town and French’s attorney, Kevin Calnan, and signed off on by town manager Anthony Marinoand French.

Marino provided a copy to the Times’sister paper, The Salem News, in response to a public records request last week.

The settlement was first reported last week by WCVB.

French’s lawyer, Kevin Calnan, pointed to language in the agreement that calls for the settlement to be confidential, to the extent available under state public records laws.

“We’re just trying to go by the agreement,” Calnan said. “He’s sticking to it. We’re not trying to re-litigate it or anything.”

“It went to the Civil Service process and hearing,” Calnan said. “I think both sides got to the point after the hearing, everyone thought was better right now to put the thing to rest.”

Calnan said French was already eligible for retirement at the time of the incident.

He acknowledged that even if French prevailed in his appeal, he likely would have faced challenges returning to work in the wake of the episode.

“He’s the only guy that got it,” said Calnan, who said French “got no support” from anyone in the town.

The settlement calls for French to waive any future claims for damages from the town.

A spokesman for the Civil Service Commissionsaid that because of the settlement, a decision will not be issued, nor will a recording of the hearing become public.

Marino said the town’s charter places sole authority to negotiate on the town manager, hence no references to the matter in Select Board meetings or minutes.

French also worked as a reserve police officer in the town of Rowleyuntil his 2018 promotion.

Courts reporter Julie Manganiscan be reached at 978-338-2521, jmanganis@gloucestertimes.comor on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.

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