Mass. FFs threaten to quit if emergency services head, assistant chief aren't removed

The firefighters allege that the emergency services director cut off their training for months due to a personal grievance


Michael Cronin
Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

ROCKPORT, Mass. — Members of the all-volunteer Rockport Fire Department are expected to start training again, but there is still no word if the town will relieve Director of Emergency Services Mark Schmink and Assistant Fire Chief Steven Abell Jr. of duty.

The decision to allow the firefighters to train again was made during a closed-door meeting between the captains of Rockport Fire's four companies and Town Administrator Mitch Vieira, Selectmen Chairwoman Ruth George, and regional Human Resources Director Michelle Lee Carroll at Town Hall on Wednesday afternoon.

The majority of firefighters at the Rockport Fire Department have threatened to quit if Director of Emergency Services Mark Schmink and Assistant Fire Chief Steven Abell Jr. aren't removed. The town has resumed firefighters' training sessions after they claimed Schmink halted them due to a personal grievance.
The majority of firefighters at the Rockport Fire Department have threatened to quit if Director of Emergency Services Mark Schmink and Assistant Fire Chief Steven Abell Jr. aren't removed. The town has resumed firefighters' training sessions after they claimed Schmink halted them due to a personal grievance. (Photo/Rockport, MA Fire Department)

The meeting was held to discuss a letter sent to selectmen Monday and signed by members of the volunteer firefighter department that outlined numerous complaints they had with Schmink and Abell. The letter stated that the majority of firefighters would quit Friday at 6 p.m. unless both were removed from their positions.

If the firefighters decide to walk, Gloucester Fire Department will handle the town's fire services, according to an unsigned press release sent to the Times by the town.

"Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and the listed individuals will not resign at 6 p.m. on Friday," it reads.

"A lot of things are still up in the air," Capt. Frank Favaloro of Rockport's Pigeon Cove fire company said after Wednesday's meeting. "The ball's in their court."

According to Favaloro, Vieira told the four fire captains to remove their names from the letter. If not, they would be "retired." With the town promising training will start back up, Favaloro indicated that some captains seemed to be willing to remove their names, although none agreed to do so during the meeting. He, however, is still disappointed with the town's response.

"I don't think I can work there anymore, which is a shame," Favaloro told the gaggle of reporters. "I'm 61 years old, and I would only have four years left anyway. I've been with the department for 25 years."

Town officials are reportedly not pleased with how the firefighters chose to handle their grievances.

"Regarding the letter, the Town of Rockport and its Board of Selectmen find this method to be inappropriate and not conducive to sharing concerns," the town's press release reads. "The town hears the concerns raised by the staff and commits that it will review the matter using its normal processes and procedures, as well as outside resources."

Shmink was named the town's first director of emergency services in June 2019 and has served since. Favaloro said Rockport firefighters have been pushing back against his leadership. According to the letter, Shmink "has no firefighting experience, does not drill with the department, and has no regard for our status as volunteers."

The letter alleges Shmink is taking full control of the department and limiting Fire Chief Jim Doyle's leadership. It also claims Shmink has not allowed firefighters to train for months due to a petty grievance he has with them. Members of the Rockport Fire Department believe Shmink's actions are an attempt to weed out the volunteers and replace them with full-time staff.

The town has denied there are any plans to replace the volunteers.

"At their public meeting (on Tuesday), the Board of Selectmen and town administrator all unanimously spoke against any transition to a full-time department and voiced support for the current structure in town," the town's statement reads. "It is the hope of the board that this unanimous public statement brings closure to the full time department speculation. It is, unequivocally, not going to happen."

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(c)2020 the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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