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Rowe fire chief to resign after ‘scrutiny’

Cites the selectmen and ‘their obvious lack of faith in me’

ROWE — Citing lack of support from selectmen, Fire Chief Paul McLatchy Jr. has resigned after nearly three decades with the fire department and several months of wrangling with the Board of Selectmen on how the Fire Department is run.

“No other official in town has had such scrutiny placed on whether they are in town or not,” McLatchy wrote in a letter to townspeople, explaining his resignation. McLatchy had been chief for two of his 29½ years with the town’s volunteer Fire Department.

“I should not have to justify, apologize or be afraid of going to (Cape Cod) for a week or two at a time over the summer,” his letter said. “There are other (firefighters) who can help manage the day-to-day matters and who have been trained to respond to emergencies. ... I have spoken with a number of other volunteer fire chiefs in the area who were shocked to hear that I had to inform the Selectboard when I was out of town.”

McLatchy said the board’s lack of support was obvious by the continued postponement of the fire chief’s yearly appointment, which usually takes place in June; by attempts to reduce his one-year term to a six-month or three-month term and by the board’s 2-1 vote to finally appoint him.

McLatchy could not be reached by telephone Thursday afternoon, but according to his son, former selectman Paul McLatchy III, the older McLatchy plans to completely resign from the Fire Department altogether on Aug. 22, to allow for a transition period with a new fire chief. McLatchy III said a formal letter of resignation was submitted to Selectman Walter Quist and to the town clerk; however, selectmen have not yet met to discuss it and accept his resignation.

Also, none of the selectmen could be reached Thursday.

In October, McLatchy Jr. was asked to attend a disciplinary hearing after the Board of Selectmen received a Sept. 25 “Vote of No Confidence” from four firefighters about how the Fire Department was run.

The letter had said the department was out-of-compliance with National Fire Protection Association standards concerning accountability tags for firefighters at the scene of a fire, for mandated safety checks on equipment, for using old turn-out gear and for not having trucks correctly inspected. The complaint had also accused the department heads of allowing lapses in first-responder certification, initial training and radio communications. It also claimed training records were not up to date and that the fire house had outdated training material.

Both McLatchy and former Fire Department Administrator Ed May waived their rights to a confidential hearing and addressed the complaints, point by point, with an audience of at least 20 people in open session.

“I think it’s important to remember that this is a volunteer fire department and its members have other matters in their lives to attend to,” McLatchy had said at the time. “To expect that this department will operate on the same level and sophistication as a department like Greenfield’s is both unrealistic and naive.”

In his letter, McLatchy said he had learned that several members of the fire department have been asked by one selectman if they were interested in serving as fire chief.

“I have had to fight to get officers appointed and then had my choices questioned,” he said. “It seems that the selectboard are simply out of touch on how a Fire Department operates.”

He went on to say that, in a town of 400 people, volunteer firefighters do not staff the station every day. “We are volunteers and we have lives outside the department. We do not and will not have the same training that career firefighters have. We don’t serve for the money, we serve to better our community.”

According to the fire chief’s son, the fire chief receives a stipend of about $7,200 per year.

The McLatchy Jr. said personal issues were factors in his resignation, but “the overwhelming reason is the selectboard and their obvious lack of faith in me. I no longer have the energy to continue to fight the selectboard on the day-to-day operation of the department.”

“I hope you will have better luck with the next fire chief,” he concludes. “I will miss the team.”

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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