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Former fire fighters have no confidence in Deerfield fire chief 



Monitor staff
Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A vote of no confidence against the Deerfield Volunteer Fire Department’s chief by 28 former fire fighters is under review by the town’s select board.

A letter, signed by the 28 individuals, was presented to the board by resident and former fire fighter Kevin MacDonald at a meeting last week. The letter states that former members of the department wish to see Chief Mark Tibbetts removed because they feared for their safety under his leadership.

“We come to you . . . to express our serious concerns about major issues within the department that were presented to the board in the past year and a half and, in our opinion, these problems were not fixed,” the letter reads.

The letter goes on to say the select board directed Tibbetts to implement seven administrative procedures last November, something the petitioners did not feel had been done. It also states they have noticed the department’s decline in numbers, which they felt was connected to Tibbetts.

“In 2010 there were 42 fire fighters, now in 2016 the number of participating fire fighters is approximately 17,” the letter read. “The real reasons of low membership have yet to be addressed.”

The issue attracted a full house last week as several former and current members of the department spoke for more than an hour about feeling unsafe and bullied under Tibbetts’s leadership.

Ginger Demurs, a former member, said she and her husband quit the department on the same day after Tibbetts verbally abused them both. She also said she felt unsafe when she responded to calls and in instances when mutual aid was present, she often sought another town’s leader for guidance.

“I cried for three days before turning in my gear, because I was giving up something I wanted to do my entire life,” she said.

Don Wyman said Tibbetts would not work with him on a training schedule that worked for him while he was in school and at work, and eventually harassed him on the subject. He also said he felt unsafe under Tibbetts because he could not trust him.

“If you can’t trust the man you’re working with, you shouldn’t work with them,” he said. “You lost a lot of good people in the fire department because of him, and you’re still losing them. . . . You’re allowing everyone on the fire department to be replaced instead of one man.”

Select board Vice Chairman Richard Pitman said that the board had been unaware of the scale of the grievances against Tibbetts and were investigating the situation by interviewing current members of the department to see if they felt the same way. He also said the board has to look into whether the seven practices were implemented.

“We do not treat issues like this mildly,” he said. “If what has been presented is true, it needs to be corrected.”

Pitman was also concerned about people with grievances not coming forward for fear of retaliation and encouraged them to contact the select board. If they are uncomfortable speaking in public, they may ask to be placed on the agenda of a meeting and then go into a non-public session, he said.

Tibbetts, who has been chief since 1997, did not respond to phone calls and emails for this story, but a captain of the fire department, John Dubiansky, spoke about the issues during a select board meeting held on Monday. While he chose not to respond to individual reasons as to why some people chose to leave, he said safety is a priority in the department.

“The young fire fighters trust us to not get them killed, and I wouldn’t bring them into the most hazardous work environment ever if I didn’t have faith in my chief,” he said.

Dubiansky agreed that some of the training burns Tibbetts had supervised had not gone according to plan, but said the department learned from its mistakes. He disagreed that there have been any instances of bullying. He also said Tibbetts is not perfect.

“I think he knows that improvement is needed and is working on that, but in no shape or form should that lead to the chief needing to leave,” he said. “Like all of us he’s working to improve his strengths and bolster his weaknesses.”