WILMINGTON – The Wilmington Firefighters union has reached a boiling point and is taking its complaints to the public after four years of mounting frustration with a Fire Chief that, they say, is indifferent to training and bent on retaliation. The Crier received a scathing letter this week chronicling a series of alleged insults and harassment, some leading to pending litigation, following a unanimous ‘no confidence’ vote by union members on April 23.
In the letter, addressed to the Board of Selectmen and dated April 23, the union calls for the resignation of Fire Chief Ed Bradbury “for the safety and wellbeing of the members of the department and the citizens of the Town of Wilmington” unless “serious changes and intervention by the management of this Town” are made.
The letter is printed in its entirety on Page 4.
The Crier contacted Town Manager Jeffrey Hull Tuesday and he was not aware of the letter. The union sent the letter exclusively to the Crier as of Tuesday evening. Neither Board of Selectmen members, to whom the letter is addressed, nor Fire Chief Bradley were aware of the union vote until the Crier contacted Hull. Union President Bill Cavanaugh told the Crier that the letter was being sent to the Selectmen Tuesday night.
Though a call to Chief Bradbury was not immediately returned, Town Manager Jeff Hull released a statement in response to the letter, standing by the Chief and his record.
“Under Chief Edward Bradbury's leadership, the Wilmington Fire Department has improved reporting protocols, introduced new therapies that have saved lives, purchased and implemented state-of-the-art equipment that increased staff safety, and generally advanced the effectiveness of the fire and emergency medical response in Wilmington. Chief Bradbury is well respected among his peers throughout the state and within Wilmington. I have full confidence in his ability to serve as Chief, as should the residents of Wilmington.”
When asked why town officials were not formally notified of the vote Cavanaugh explained, "We have worked tirelessly to try and promote a harmonious and productive working environment with the Chief by having numerous meetings with the manager, but we feel as though the problem is past that point now and needs further intervention in order to solve this unfortunate circumstance."
Town leaders, who were blindsided by the union move, objected to the way the union handled the notification.
“I find it highly unusual that correspondence alleging a vote of no confidence in Chief Bradbury and making a series of serious allegations about him would be directed to the Board of Selectmen and dated April 23, 2013, yet have not been received in this office for distribution to the Board,” wrote Hull in a statement to the Crier. “In addition, your inquiry about this correspondence is the first time that the Fire Chief, the Assistant Town Manager and I have been made aware of this action by IAFF Local 1370. The content of the correspondence refers to a number of personnel matters, which are confidential, therefore, I am not at liberty to respond directly to the allegations made.”
Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Michael Newhouse spoke with the Crier Tuesday night and stated, “I cannot speak to it, I can’t comment on it [the letter] because I haven’t seen it.”
“This is a matter that should be handled by the manager,” said Newhouse, adding “For what its worth, I have confidence in the Fire Chief.”
The vote was taken at a regularly scheduled union meeting, on the Tuesday following the state meeting, and as such, the details of this vote were not specifically listed on the agenda.
“My membership was aware that this would be happening. It was told verbally, though we didn’t post it around the station,” said Cavanaugh.
He stated that he checked with the state president who concurred with the notification to membership. By taking this vote in a regularly scheduled meeting, Cavanaugh added, “it is the membership’s responsibility to show up and be informed about what is going on with their union.”
Cavanaugh further stated that the membership that attended the meeting, an overwhelming majority of the union’s 33 members but not all, was provided the letter, afforded time to read it, and then held a lengthy discussion about its contents prior to the vote. Union legal counsel worked with leadership to draft the letter. The vote was unanimous.
Cavanaugh explained that this move was considered previously, but the union held off.
“This step was brought up a little while ago, and we really backed off it because we felt with Mr. Caira [former Town Manager] leaving, and Mr. Hull taking over, we felt we could work with the new town manager and find some middle ground. Like I said, my guys are just fed up with it. If taxpayers knew, they would be upset. We’re not doing anyone a service by not telling people,” he said. “The letter that I have is representative of what is going on, but is not a total disclosure of what is going on since we’ve been there.”
Hull likens the complaints mainly to “personality conflicts” between some union membership and the Chief.
“The IAFF Local 1370's decision to engage in a vote of no confidence against Chief Bradbury is unfortunate and wholly misguided. The claims made by the Union are lacking a foundation in fact, and generally personnel rather than safety or service related. Frankly, the complaints amount to nothing more than personality conflicts between a small minority of the staff and Chief Bradbury,” writes Hull.
The letter makes numerous claims and allegations against Chief Bradbury. One thread states that though he lived more than ten miles from town, in Merrimac, MA for many years he only recently moved to Haverhill, within the ten-mile radius civil service requires. The union claims the Chief has retaliated against firefighters that also live greater than ten-miles away, even though the town never enforced that portion of the civil service law, in one instance in response to Freedom of Information Act requests by a firefighter who sought training records.
The union also claims that the Chief has fought grievances brought by the union in an effort to drive up union legal costs, driving many matters to arbitration. The Chief can utilize town counsel to counter labor disputes.
Union leaders also allege that the Chief has neglected training, not providing enough for new hires.
“In the last 5 and a half years we’ve put on 13 brand new firefighters and turned over almost a third of the department,” says Cavanaugh, adding that the training officer position did not develop a schedule and curriculum for new hires nor offered training for “life safety, survival, mayday, or accountability.”
“Three different union presidents have been asking for training curriculum, and haven’t gotten anything,” added Cavanaugh.
“It is disappointing that the Union chose to put the personal issues of a few above the well-being of the community. The Union did not notify me of this vote, nor did they actually send this letter to the Selectmen; which is simply another indication their purpose is solely to embarrass and publicly harass a Chief who has done nothing more than increase the professionalism and, more importantly, increase accountability of the staff of the Fire Department,” said Hull.