By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Town Manager Gayle Corrigan used the town email list to distribute a letter to residents last week refuting comments made by firefighter union president Bill Perry at last Monday’s Town Council meeting.
“We are not looking to pick a fight with Lt. Perry, but when he speaks as an officer of the East Greenwich Fire Department, he speaks with an air of authority. Anyone speaking with authority should be accurate with their information,” Corrigan wrote.
In his comments, Perry said the firefighters were always ready to talk about contract issues that have led to the town’s litigation. Corrigan disputed this in her letter, referring to her willingness to meet to discuss grievances.
“The Town welcomes any opportunity to meet with the firefighter’s union,” she wrote.
In an interview after the letter went out, Perry said he was referring to the contract issues that led to the town’s decision to file suit against the firefighters in December in his comments before the Town Council
“They have never once reached out by email, anything, to talk about overtime, the contract, anything,” Perry said.
In her letter, Corrigan chided Perry for what she said was his mistake on his property tax bill, which he said during his comments was $15,000.
“Mr. Perry clearly does not have a good handle on actual numbers. The current tax bill for his property on 5 Pardons Wood Lane with a value of $500,500 is $11,841.83,” Corrigan wrote.
Perry said Corrigan failed to include his car tax, which he estimated would be an additional $2,500. He conceded under that scenario, his tax bill would be in the $14,000 range.
Finally, Corrigan listed what she said were a series of misrepresentations with regard to Perry’s comments regarding a fire at a vacant building on Main Street the previous week.
“Again, Mr. Perry does not have a good handle on actual numbers. There were three (3) firefighters on the scene,” she wrote, one of them Chief Robinson. She said additional help arrived in six minutes.
Perry had said there were two firefighters on scene initially and that it was eight minutes before additional help arrived. Last week he stood by his words.
“For the chief to be the incident commander, the incident commander does not go in the building. I don’t count him as a firefighter,” said Perry. He said the same would be the case with former Fire Chief Russ McGillivray – only two firefighters were available to go into the building until additional help arrived.
Corrigan also questioned Perry’s saying the building could have been lost but for the timing of the fire (it took place midday; a passerby called it in after seeing smoke).
“This statement is mostly true but not for the reason Mr. Perry implies…. The number of firefighters or trucks on site after the fact is irrelevant to how and when the fire is reported. The fire alarm remained working during the fire,” she wrote.
Last week, Perry said the problem with Corrigan’s analysis is that they were lucky – there was no one inside and the fire was easily contained. But for those facts, he said, the incident would have been much more serious. You want to be prepared for all eventualities, he said.
In her letter, Corrigan suggested that EG firefighters refuse to be called back into work when there is an active fire. Perry refuted that and said he did not know where she got that information.
(Lawyer for the firefighters, EG resident Elizabeth Wiens, sent this letter to the town to lodge her complaints about Corrigan’s email: Response to Corrigan Letter.)
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