To the Citizens of Berlin and the Patrons of Berlin Fire Company Setting the Record Straight
The following statement is from the Berlin Fire Company regarding the recent events which have occurred between the Fire Company and the Mayor & Council of Berlin:
Allegations of Discrimination
In March of 2012, the Fire Company was advised by the Mayor & Council that certain allegations related to discrimination had occurred. The Fire Company thereupon requested the Mayor & Council to provide the complaint(s) made, the reports of investigation allegedly conducted by the Town of Berlin’s HR Director and the Town Administrator, and other specific information with respect to the alleged actions of the Fire Company, so that the Fire Company could determine how it would respond to such allegations. The Town Administrator advised that no such information would be forthcoming and, as recently stated in the Wednesday, August 22 article “...the Town was not able to share personnel items with an outside entity.”
The previous relationship between the Mayor & Council of Berlin and the Fire Company was formulated by virtue of a “Leased Employee Agreement” entered into in January 1, 2009. By that Agreement, the employees which were, and continue to be, employees of the Fire Company were “leased” to the Town in order to be eligible for State retirement benefits. Therefore, it is not accurate that the Berlin Fire Company is an “outside entity” as it remains the primary employer of the personnel. As of the date of this letter, the Fire Company has still not received from the Town any documentation or specific information relating to the matter despite repeated and increasingly insistent requests. The Town claims it has verification yet refused to provide any evidence of it. The Town claims to have fully investigated yet has not interviewed a single volunteer of the Fire Company – it has never even requested to do so.
What the Fire Company has done
The Fire Company has always followed a written policy against workplace harassment, hostility and discrimination. When a complaint arises, the matter is investigated and any necessary action is taken. Regardless of being denied the specifics of the allegations against us, the Fire Company conducted its own investigation in spite of the lack of specifics and cooperation by the Town. As a result of discussions with the Town, the Fire Company’s entire volunteer constituent (approximately 65 members) underwent professional workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training upon pain of being discharged from the Company if they refused. Every single volunteer attended.
As a result of the discussions with the Town and at the Town’s request that one volunteer step down, regardless of whether discrimination or harassment occurred, several volunteers have stepped aside from their supervisory positions for the good of their families and of the Fire Company and in an effort to accommodate the Town. The volunteers’ actions were an attempt to allow the Fire Company to focus on its mission of protecting and serving the public without an on-going controversy with the Town.
The Fire Company has instituted a strict anti-discrimination, anti-harassment policy, anti-retaliation policy. Mandatory workplace anti-discrimination/harassment training sessions shall be conducted annually. Personnel policies and operational policies are being updated and/or drafted to ensure that the Fire Company operates in an efficient, safe and professional manner.
The Berlin Fire Company is not going to use the media to debate the facts with the Town but denies the allegation that it engaged in employment discrimination or harassment.
The article and the editorial of The Daily Times referred to “legal proceedings in connection with the matter.” That legal proceeding is not against the Fire Company.
In fact, those legal proceedings were instituted by a former employee, the EMS employee supervisor, against the Town of Berlin only. The allegations in that lawsuit include that the Town of Berlin terminated the employment of the supervisor as a retaliatory measure for the supervisor exercising his rights under the Town’s personnel manual when he disputed his suspension which was allegedly related to the discrimination complaints. That litigation, while presently on-going, is not against the Fire Company.
Cause of Funding Termination
Over the last five months, under constant threat of defunding, the Fire Company has attempted to accommodate the Town’s increasing efforts to control operations of the EMS, including staffing and scheduling of EMS personnel even though the Fire Company is in the best position to know when EMS personnel are needed and when volunteers are generally unavailable. The EMS professional personnel are supplemented by the participation of numerous members of the Fire Company, approximately 40 of whom are certified EMS personnel. The participation of the volunteers has historically been a significant and important contribution to the maintenance of public safety for the citizens, residents and visitors to the Town of Berlin and surrounding areas in North Worcester County. Notwithstanding those facts, the Town Administrator of Berlin, with the apparent support of the Mayor & Council, has steadfastly refused to allow the Fire Company to participate in scheduling the EMS personnel.
That takeover of control was the cause of the Fire Company advising the Town that the Fire Company’s primary mission of serving and protecting the public was being detrimentally affected by the Town’s assertion of its authority. The Fire Company notified the Town that it would take over all supervision and direction of the EMS personnel to achieve that mission. As a result of the notification, given to the Town on Thursday, August 16, the Town notified the Fire Company on August 21, 2012 that the Town is completely defunding the Fire Company, for both fire safety funding and EMS service funding.
The sole mission of the Berlin Fire Company since its inception in 1910, 102 years ago, has been the public safety of the citizens, residents and visitors to the Town of Berlin and the surrounding area of Northern Worcester County. Based on allegations which the Town has refused to fully apprise the Fire Company of, and despite the efforts by the Fire Company to respond to those matters, the Mayor & Council of Berlin have chosen to terminate all funding regardless of the resulting adverse effect upon public safety in the Town of Berlin. The Fire Company has maintained emergency medical service for the Town since 1964 and is the sole and exclusive provider of such services, in addition to its proud and long standing tradition of providing fire safety protection of lives and property in the Town of Berlin. The Fire Company is intent upon continuing such services notwithstanding the drastic and precipitous termination of all funding by the Town of Berlin. The Berlin Fire Company will strive, to the best of its ability, utilizing the services of both professional personnel and volunteers of the Company to continue such services for the citizens of the Town and surrounding areas.
In the last year the Fire Company provided the following service to the residents of the Town of Berlin and residents and visitors to the Northern Worcester County area: 2011 - 294 Fire calls and 1574 EMS calls; January through June, 2012 - 188 fire calls and 777 EMS calls.
The Fire Company believes that it is much better situated to continue providing fire and emergency medical services to the people of Berlin and the surrounding areas than the Town. First and foremost, the fire company has the knowledge, expertise and experience to do so. Further, due to the commitment, devotion, service and sacrifice of its volunteers, the Fire Company is able to provide the services at a severely reduced cost to the Town. The Town has granted $557,360 to Fire Company for both fire and EMS. The cost to the Fire Company is near $2 million. For the Town to provide fire and emergency medical services, it would have to hire professional fireman and EMS providers, house them, purchase and maintain vehicles, and provide the administration for the provision of the services. The initial and annual cost to the Town would greatly exceed the roughly $600,000 provided to the Fire Company.
As the only professional entity with the capability of providing EMS services and fire safety services to the area, the Berlin Fire Company will continue its tradition of professional and effective public safety services to the Town of Berlin.