Monday, Jun 27, 2016
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Police & Fire

Bedford fire probe finds no corruption

Panel does cite command, compensation problems

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Officials uncovered an ‘ineffective and confusing command structure’ at the Bedford Fire Department as well as a possibly unfair compensation structure. The officials, however, found no corrupt practices.

THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT
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TEMPERANCE — An investigation into the Bedford Township Fire Department turned up no corruption or theft but did find a need to review and revise operating guidelines, rules, and regulations, officials said last week.

Township Treasurer Paul Francis said the investigation, done by the board’s personnel committee, began in late August and involved interviews with a dozen firefighters. It uncovered an “ineffective and confusing command structure,” as well as “an ineffective and possibly unfair compensation structure,” along with myriad other shortcomings.

Some officers, he said, received paid medical leave and others did not. Mr. Francis described the situation as “a breakdown in the chain of command.”

But he rejected speculation and allegations swirling on the Internet and in certain township circles. Mr. Francis said he found no corrupt practices, such as the misuse of a township credit card. Scuba gear said to be stolen was in fact sold in 2004 at the recommendation of the fire chief at the time and after a vote by the township board. He said one supposedly missing or stolen radio had been found, but another had yet to turn up.

Rumors in the township were further stoked by the termination last month of Todd Brunning, a firefighter who had been with the department for about 18 months. No reason was given for the dismissal.

Mr. Francis said the no-bid purchase of a Pierce Top Mount Pumper last year and financing through Monroe Bank and Trust were not the result of a sweetheart deal, as Internet commentators alleged. The board authorized the $418,821 purchase in August, after other manufacturers of fire trucks did not submit bids, on the recommendation of Jim Neorr, the interim fire chief at the time.

Mr. Francis, a longtime certified public accountant, said Fifth Third Bank offered the township a lower interest rate, but would have charged a prepayment penalty and other costs that would more than offset the interest savings.

Mr. Francis delivered his preliminary report after the board heard from a succession of citizens citing the hearsay and urging officials to do something about alleged fire department mismanagement.

Longtime Fire Chief John Bofia retired April 1. The board named Mr. Neorr, the assistant fire chief, to run the volunteer department temporarily, but he stepped down and was replaced last month by Joe Keane, who recommended the firing of Mr. Brunning, an at-will employee. The board has been advertising for a new chief and received 33 resumes.

The fire department’s only full-time employees are the chief and fire inspector. Officers get a yearly stipend, and rank-and-file firefighters are paid $16 per run, compensation that has not been increased since the 2009-10 fiscal year. Mr. Francis recommended officer compensation be reduced and supplemented with on-call pay.

Mr. Francis also recommended that all job descriptions be reviewed and revised.

Supervisor Greg Stewart said he wanted fire department problems cleared up soon so the new fire chief, when he or she is hired, “doesn’t have to be a hatchet man.”

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