State: Epsom firefighter isn’t qualified

Monitor staff
Friday, July 07, 2017

A full-time firefighter and paramedic in Epsom has been working for more than three years without the necessary qualifications, the state’s Fire Standards and Training Commission has warned the town.

The incident is the latest in a series of challenges for the department, which is now facing two lawsuits from one current and one former employee.

George Calligandes, who came on full-time with the town in February 2014, should have passed the Candidate Physical Ability Test – or CPAT – before being hired, the fire commission told Epsom fire Chief R. Steward Yeaton in a June 12 letter.

State officials first wrote to Yeaton about Calligandes a year earlier in July 2016, when, upon reviewing old paperwork notifying them of Calligandes’s hire, they noticed Yeaton had said his new hire would be taking the physical test within a year. Per state rules, full-time firefighters are supposed to pass the test before – not after – they get hired. Either way, Calligandes hadn’t yet taken it.

In response, Yeaton asked for a waiver, which the state denied. Yeaton then asked for a hearing, which was scheduled for June 1. On June 12, the state wrote that the town was in violation of state fire hiring standards and that Calligandes had until Sept. 30 to pass the test.

The test is administered three times a year – April, June, and September – at the Richard M. Flynn Fire Academy in Concord. 

Deborah Pendergast, the director of the Division of Fire Standards and Training & Emergency Medical Services, said Wednesday the academy hadn’t yet received notice that Calligandes was enrolled to take the test.

If Calligandes doesn’t comply by then, the commission will contact the New Hampshire Retirement System to tell them he’s ineligible to take part in Group II, Pendergast said.

“It would be up to them,” she said.

Back in 2015, the state’s Emergency Medical Services licensing bureau sought to suspend Calligandes’s EMS license for seven years in connection with a 2014 misdemeanor conviction for simple assault. Calligandes had originally been charged with sexual assault, but he pleaded no contest to the lesser charge. The crime took place in May 2010, and the victim had been an EMS student Calligandes had been teaching.

The state backed off a multi-year suspension of Calligandes’s license after Yeaton went to bat for him, testifying in an appeal hearing that Calligandes was a “great team player” who had saved many lives during his time in the Epsom fire department. Four others who had worked with Calligandes also submitted letters in his support, and the hearing examiner ultimately decided to retroactively suspend his license for just nine days.

The town’s selectmen were told in a letter dated Aug. 2, 2016, by Matthew Moulton, who was at the time a fire captain in the department, that Yeaton had hired Calligandes without the CPAT and signed off on paperwork to enter him into the state’s retirement system.

The accusation was included in a long list of grievances against Yeaton, who Moulton accused of retaliating against him for siding with a fellow firefighter, Richard Bilodeau.

Bilodeau has accused a town police officer of sexual harassment and filed a lawsuit against the town in 2015, accusing the town’s leaders, including Yeaton, of working together to retaliate against him for his complaints.

Moulton has since publicly resigned from the department after decades with the town over Yeaton’s allegedly retaliatory behavior. Last month, he also filed a lawsuit against the town and Yeaton individually, and his letter to the selectmen was entered into evidence with the court.

Phone messages left for Yeaton and select board Chairman Don Harty were not returned. Calligandes could not be reached for comment.

Calligandes was the second-highest paid employee in the Epsom fire department in 2016, according to the town report. He took home $57,507 in regular pay and another $673 in overtime.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)