The Dresden Board of Selectmen has a tense relationship with the fire department, Third Selectman Allan Moeller said Monday, Sept. 18. The board took several actions related to the department during Monday’s meeting.
The selectmen voted unanimously to appoint former Fire Chief Gerald Lilly interim assistant fire chief.
The Dresden Fire Department has been without an assistant chief since the verbal resignation of Assistant Fire Chief Ron Theriault in early August, Third Selectman Allan Moeller said. Gerald Lilly will remain interim assistant chief until the selectmen appoint a permanent replacement. They are accepting applications for the position.
The selectmen unanimously approved an appropriation of up to $500 from the town’s recreation fund to support the fire department’s upcoming open house, but not without questioning how the department would use the funds.
Moeller said he would not support the request if the funds were to go toward the rental of a bounce house, which was a feature at the 2016 open house.
The Dresden Volunteer Fire Department Association covers the cost of entertainment and food at the open house, association member Shari Lilly said.
Town funds are used to purchase educational materials for distribution at the event, she said.
After an executive session to discuss a personnel matter, the selectmen also voted unanimously to prohibit children and pets from attending fire department meetings. Moeller made the motion. He said he has seen toddlers at fire department meetings where safety checks were being conducted on equipment, and he felt it was a safety hazard and liability for the town.
There is “tension” between the fire department and the selectmen, Moeller said. Theriault verbally resigned during an executive session at a special selectmen’s meeting Aug. 2. The selectmen voted unanimously at the Aug. 2 meeting to accept his resignation.
The Aug. 2 meeting was scheduled to discuss a personnel matter and notice of the meeting was posted at the town office, Moeller said. The town did not notify local media of the meeting. State open-meeting laws require media notification for unscheduled meetings.
Theriault has not submitted a written resignation, which Dresden Volunteer Fire Department Association bylaws require, said Gorham Lilly, a member of the fire department.
The board of selectmen “trumps the association’s bylaws,” Moeller said.
Prior to voting to appoint Gerald Lilly interim assistant fire chief, First Selectman Dale Hinote proposed giving Theriault two weeks to communicate his intentions to the selectmen.
Moeller opposed the idea. Theriault made his intentions “very clear” the day he resigned and turned in his keys, Moeller said.
Theriault’s resignation did not necessarily affect his status as a member of the Dresden Fire Department, the selectmen said. Multiple efforts to contact Theriault for comment were unsuccessful.
Fire Chief Steve Lilly has not spoken to the selectmen about the position, Moeller said. Selectmen said they expect Steve Lilly to uphold his duties as fire chief and work with their appointed assistant chief “or we’ll be talking to him,” Moeller said.
Gerald Lilly was in attendance at the Sept. 18 meeting and accepted the position. He said he was unaware that Theriault resigned prior to the meeting. “Whatever I can do to help,” he said.
Gerald Lilly said he did not anticipate a problem working with the fire chief. “We’ve been working together for years,” he said. He declined to comment on the relationship between the selectmen and the fire department.
Steve Lilly had just heard about the selectmen’s actions at the Sept. 18 meeting when reached for comment the following day. “I don’t have a lot to say at this time. I’m still taking it in myself,” he said.
In regards to children and pets at fire department meetings, they are not allowed during training sessions but are permitted in the fire station during general meetings, Steve Lilly said. “We’ve always been a very family-oriented department,” he said.
Fire department leadership and selectmen have been at odds in the past. In June, the Dresden Board of Selectmen surprised fire department leadership by accepting applications for the position of fire chief, assistant chief, and emergency management agency director.
Voters authorize the selectmen to appoint the positions each year at annual town meeting, but the appointments have always coincided with the recommendations of the Dresden Volunteer Fire Department Association. The process of accepting applications for the positions was new.
Selectmen appointed Steve Lilly and Theriault to one-year terms in their respective positions, which began July 1. They were the only applicants to the positions and were recommended by the association.
Selectmen appointed Wally Staples as the new emergency management agency director. Former director Sonia Lilly did not apply for the position.
The selectmen attributed the tension between them and the fire department to the department’s change of status to a municipal department. The Dresden Volunteer Fire Department became a municipal department in 2008.
According to Hinote, the department still operates as it did when it was a private association. The town funds the fire department and pays the debt for the construction of the fire station in 2008.
“It could not be clearer (that fire department members) are town employees,” Hinote said. Selectmen said they rarely receive information from the leadership of the department about its operation.
“As far as we’re concerned, we’ve done everything we can to peacefully resolve the situation, but at a minimum, we expect them to communicate with us,” Hinote said.