DRACUT -- The impending retirements of two 34-year veteran firefighters and last month's departure of a fire captain for a job as chief in Ipswich has left the department with three large pairs of firefighters' boots to fill, Deputy Fire Chief Richard Patterson told selectmen Tuesday.
"We would like to congratulate and acknowledge that Deputy Chief Mike Ralls and Capt. Joseph Greenwood will be retiring at the end of this month after 34 years of service to the department," announced Patterson, who was designated by Chief Dave Brouillette to deliver the Fire Department's monthly update to the board and DATV meeting audience on Tuesday.
The department also recently saw Capt. Gregory Gagnon, an 18-year veteran, leave Dracut to be sworn in as the new fire chief Ipswich in June, Ralls said.
"So that's created three openings, which we are in the process now of going through the Civil-Service hiring process to fill those positions," Patterson said.
Greenwood is scheduled to retire July 28, and Ralls on July 31, Patterson said.
"Those are two good firefighters who have done a great job," said Selectman Joe DiRocco, a retired Dracut fire chief. "They're going to be missed."
Patterson, who has worked alongside both for 20 years with the department, described Ralls' and Greenwood's retirements as a "huge loss" for the town.
"There's an awful lot of firefighting years there," Patterson said. "Between the two of them, that's 68-plus years of knowledge and experience that you just can't replace overnight."
Aiding the replacement process somewhat for the 38-member department, Patterson said some firefighters currently assigned to dispatch duties are permitted to transfer to field service in advance of entering the nine-week Massachusetts Firefighters Academy training program.
Patterson said several promotions were given as a result of the staff openings. Lts. Tim Grimes and Thomas Mackey were promoted to captain; and firefighters Mark Armstrong and Ken McMenimen were promoted to lieutenant.
Patterson said the Fire Department recorded its busiest "nonstorm day" of activity ever Monday, responding to "24 calls in 24 hours," he said.
Responding to a question from DiRocco about fireworks, Patterson said unlike Lowell and Pelham, the Dracut Fire Department "didn't have any complaints related to fireworks at all."
During members' comments, DiRocco brought to the board and public's attention a special meeting of the Finance Committee tonight at 7 at Harmony Hall.
DiRocco said the purpose of the meeting is to have a public discussion of the propriety -- or lack thereof -- of the Finance Committee's June 2 meeting and sponsorship of an amendment to Town Meeting Warrant Article 4, that immediately preceded a Town Meeting vote stripping the School Committee, Board of Selectmen and Town Moderator Leo Gaudette of their annual stipends.
Tonight's special meeting of the Finance Committee was prompted by a formal complaint letter that Shawn Ashe, a resident and editor of the "Dracut Forum" political blog on Facebook, wrote to the town in June. In the letter, Ashe said the Finance Committee violated the terms of the state's Open Meeting Law by discussing stipends at their June 2 meeting, which was held the same night -- and just before -- Town Meeting, without advance posting of the stipends discussion as an agenda item, according to Ashe.
Though DiRocco does not expect the Town Meeting vote stopping the stipends to be overturned, he agreed with Ashe's argument the Finance Committee acted "improperly" June 2, and said the matter needs to be addressed.
"They acted on something they didn't post ahead of time. It should've come before the selectmen ahead of time, like all the other articles, for our recommendation," DiRocco said. "The whole thing comes down to: Did they violate the Open Meeting Law? In my mind, the answer is yes, in the way they did it. It was underhanded. That's the thing that has to be resolved."
Ashe, who attended Tuesday's selectmen's meeting, said it was wrong for the Finance Committee to have held their June 2 meeting, and vote recommending that stipends no longer be paid, one hour before Town Meeting -- at the same time the School Committee and selectmen were holding meetings -- thus making it impossible for those members to partake in a discussion that impacted them directly.
"It all felt wrong, and it didn't feel open and transparent, and I don't think that's right," said Ashe.
In other business, selectmen voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve a request by Brox Industries to expand their storage capacity for liquid asphalt at their 1471 Methuen St. business by 240,000 gallons. Erik Stevenson, Brox project manager, said the company has "worked closely" with the Fire Department and state Fire Marshal's Office to meet all safety requirements to expand their liquid asphalt storage from its current 226,000-gallon capacity to 466,000 gallons.
"Brox is not a company that cuts corners," said DiRocco. "I don't see a problem with it."
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