Corrigan Continues Assault on Fire District Merger

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan (left) presented another chapter to her look back at the 2013 merger of the East Greenwich Fire District into a town department, continuing her argument that it took place without due diligence and with grave financial consequences for the town. (Find her report here.)

As she has done several times in the months since she’s been town manager, Corrigan said the fire department was too expensive and needed to be fixed.

Her solution: restructure the department into three platoons that work 56 hours a week from the current four platoons and 42-hour work week. The town has sued the firefighters to be able to impose the restructure immediately; firefighters say they have a valid contract until 2019.

Corrigan’s report, while repeating arguments made in earlier reports, did take more exact aim at some of the people in charge in recent years. In particular, she cited what she said was the inexperience of former Town Manager Tom Coyle, former Town Solicitor Peter Clarkin and former Fire Chief Russ McGillivray in negotiating contracts.

However, Coyle served as police chief before becoming town manager and negotiated contracts in that position; Clarkin negotiated several rounds of contracts for three unions during his tenure in East Greenwich before adding the firefighter contract; McGillivray came from the larger West Warwick Fire Department and served as deputy chief in EG for three years before becoming chief. McGillivray and Coyle both hold master’s degrees in public administration.

Corrigan questioned the increase in the number of “service calls” (i.e. miscellaneous calls) between 2013 and 2014 (when the district became a department). As she said, the increase was due to the decision to classify alarm box resets as service calls.

In a phone interview Thursday, McGillivray (who took over as chief in 2013) offered this explanation for the classification change: “We were just trying to account for the hours and the work that the fire department was doing. When we went from the fire district to the fire department, I saw that social services and police department were very data driven and I wanted to get a better accounting of the work we actually did.”

Meanwhile, the total number of incident calls (including service calls) has risen steadily in recent years.  Even if service calls are subtracted, the fire department had more than 1,000 additional incidents in 2017 than it had in 2006, the year the fire district topped out at 36 total firefighters. In 2006 there were 2,386 incidents; in 2017, there were 4,121 (665 of them classified as service calls).

Corrigan also highlighted a jump in rescue billing rates between 2015 and 2016, but said she had not yet looked into the cause for the increases.

Former Fire Chief John McKenna (who served as chief from 2005 to 2010) was at the meeting Monday and during public comment he said that spike came after the billing company – Comstar – went from using a base rate and subcategories in its billing charges (for instance, separating out fees for starting an IV or using oxygen) to having one blended cost. McKenna, who now works in private industry, said the change was for all Comstar clients, public and private. McGillivray gave the same explanation Thursday.

In her report, Corrigan spoke about raises, saying some firefighters got a 48 percent raise in the current contract, while everyone else in town got 2 percent raises.

According to firefighter union president Bill Perry, the firefighters got a 2 percent raise like everyone else but he acknowledged that six so-called lateral transfers (firefighters hired from other departments) were given the salary of a second-year firefighter instead of a first-year firefighter, which came out to about $3 more per hour for those six firefighters (a 2 percent raise that year would have been in the range of 50 cents an hour).

He said he did not know where Corrigan got the 48 percent figure.

During public comment Monday, Perry urged the council to talk to other municipalities where they have put in a three-platoon system. There have been four.

In North Kingstown, town officials imposed a three-platoon system that was fought extensively and expensively in the courts; firefighters there lost after it was ruled they did not have a valid contract. A three-platoon system was also imposed in Providence, but the city abandoned it after years of litigation and went back to a four-platoon system. The city had to pay Providence firefighters several million dollars in overtime accrued during the three-platoon, 56-hour work weeks. Tiverton and Central Coventry Fire District also have three-platoon systems – Tiverton’s through negotiation and Central Coventry’s was imposed after that district went bankrupt. Corrigan runs Central Coventry.

“Do your due diligence. We have an active contract,” said Perry. “I would hope that everybody would be adults and sit down instead of having attorneys become wealthy off the community. Nobody benefits from that.”

“Bill, we’d be happy to sit down,” Council President Sue Cienki said.

The last attempt to negotiate failed in December; both sides blamed the other side.

Corrigan said she would present “phase one” of her restructuring plan at the April 9 Town Council meeting.



 

Goodbye, Chief McGillivray; Hello, Chief Olsen

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Firefighter union president Bill Perry talks with new interim Fire Chief Christopher Olsen after the Town Council meeting Monday.

When Fire Chief Russell McGillivray took off his East Greenwich Fire Department shirt Monday evening, people knew he was no longer the chief.

It happened while the Town Council met in executive session Monday night, before its regular session. McGillivray was one of the items on the executive session agenda.

After the council reconvened in open session, about an hour after it had gone into executive session, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan read a statement in which she announced she had dismissed McGillivray “without cause.” There was no further discussion before the council moved on to the next agenda item.

Former Fire Chief Russ McGillivray (right) talks with Police Detective Lt. Jay Fague (left) and West Warwick Fire Chief Joe Baris.

With that, McGillivray was gone. He joined the department in February 2011, having started his firefighting career at the West Warwick Fire Department. He was on duty the night of The Station nightclub fire that killed 100 and injured many others. McGillivray always declined to talk about that night. He was well liked, but Corrigan let it be known she had lost faith in him during testimony in the Town of EG vs. EG firefighters trial in September.

He will receive six months severance as per his contract, as well as receive remaining vacation pay.

In McGillivray’s place, at least for now, is Christopher Olsen, who attended the meeting Monday along with his wife. The Town Council voted 4-1 in favor of Olsen to serve as interim fire chief. He will be paid $65 an hour.

Town Council President Sue Cienki talks with newly appointed Interim Fire Chief Christopher Olsen.

Olsen is the retired fire chief for Cotuit, Mass., a small Cape Cod community. He and his wife live in Rochester, N.H.

Olsen stayed through the meeting, then met with firefighters and town officials afterwards. He begins his job immediately.

Corrigan said there would be a search for a permanent chief. No timetable was offered.

 

 

 

Town Council to Vote on Interim Fire Chief Monday

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

In a highly anticipated move since Town Manager Gayle Corrigan expressed her lack of confidence in Fire Chief Russell McGillivray in Superior Court in September, the Town Council will vote on an unnamed interim fire chief at its meeting Monday night.

Also on the agenda, the council will discuss ending the town’s role as host community to the Community Development Block Grant consortium, which consists of most southern Rhode Island communities and is managed by Geoff Marchant out of an office in Town Hall.

In addition, the council will consider releasing “executive session meeting minutes and supporting documentation for prior discussions concerning collective bargaining with the IAFF related to the Council’s consideration and subsequent adoption of the 2016-2019 collective bargaining agreement.”

The Town Council will convene in executive session starting at 6 p.m., followed by the regular session, at Swift Community Center.

‘Crimetown’ Investigator Questions Fire Chief

A former FBI agent was seen at Town Hall Sept. 22 and sources say he was there to question Fire Chief Russell McGillivray.

Private investigator Dennis Aiken was one of the main FBI agents whose investigation of former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci and his administration ended with Cianci serving five years in prison.

Simultaneously, Town Manager Gayle Corrigan was testifying in court that she had lost confidence in McGillivray, who has served as chief since 2013.

The Town Council was going to discuss McGillivray’s job performance at their Sept. 25 meeting but that item was removed from the agenda without comment.

Town officials did not comment on Aiken’s involvement. It follows the engagement of attorney Tim Cavazza to consult with the town on legal issues. Both North Kingstown and Providence have used Cavazza to represent them in legal battles against their firefighters, in particular in the effort to move the fire departments in those communities from four platoons to three.

Cavazza is a partner in the Providence law firm Whelan, Corrente, Flanders, Kinder and Siket, LLP. Robert Corrente, a partner in the law firm, worked with Aiken on the Cianci case during his tenure as Rhode Island’s U.S. Attorney.

It was Bob Flanders, another partner, who introduced Corrigan to Town Council President Sue Cienki, after which the Town Council hired Corrigan’s firm, Providence Analytics, to complete a review of school and town finances last spring. That was followed by the departure of former Town Manager Tom Coyle in June and the naming of Corrigan to that post. Within 10 days, Corrigan’s Providence Analytics partner, Linda Dykeman, was given the job of town finance director.

McGillivray declined to comment. Aiken also declined to comment.

Aiken spent 34 years with the FBI. He gained a bit of celebrity this past year when he participated in the popular “Crimetown” podcast, which spent its first season looking at Providence and its history of organized crime and corruption.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Town Council To Discuss Fire Chief’s Job Performance Monday

It’s deja vu all over again, with an executive session agenda item that reads exactly like the one that ended with former Town Manager Tom Coyle “separating” from the town June 19. This time, the employee in question is Fire Chief Russell McGillivray.

The agenda reads, Closed pursuant to RIGL 42-46-5 (a) (1), discussions concerning the job performance, character, or physical or mental health of a person in the employ of the Town of East Greenwich, provided that such person affected shall have been notified in advance in writing and advised that they may require that the discussion be held at an open meeting. Find the full agenda here.

Corrigan testified Friday, during the trial of the EG firefighters union versus the Town of East Greenwich, that she had lost confidence in McGillivray and that his report on the fiscal impact of the 2017-19 firefighters contract was incorrect, saying the pay for six lateral firefighter hired in 2016 far exceeded what McGillivray represented.

Later Friday, McGillivray said he had not been aware of Corrigan’s lost confidence.

He has since been notified that his job performance would be discussed Monday, according to a source in the fire department.

At the Sept. 11 Town Council meeting, attorney Tim Cavazza was seen going into the executive session at Swift Community Center. Cavazza is the lawyer hired by both North Kingstown and Providence in recent years in legal battles with firefighter unions in those municipalities. His presence suggests the Town Council may be considering legal action against the firefighters.

Also on the agenda Monday is a review of Town Council guidelines. Among the proposed changes regards who can put things on the Town Council agenda. Currently, the Town Council president reviews the agenda (which is put together by the town manager and the town clerk), and any two council members may add items to the agenda. The proposed change reads: “Any two members of Council may request items be added to the agenda.”

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Swift Community Center.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Capt. Mears Named Acting Fire Chief

By Elizabeth F. McNamara 

The Town Council voted 4-0 to appoint Captain Thomas Mears as acting fire chief in an unusual Saturday morning meeting at Town Hall that was filled to overflowing. The action ends three days of fierce speculation and uncertainty over just who Town Manager Gayle Corrigan was planning to recommend to the Town Council.

During the brief meeting, Councilman Mark Schwager questioned the necessity of the meeting. Fire Chief Russ McGillivray went out on a medical leave Thursday (8/17) and had named Mears to cover for him during his absence, something he had done several times before, both he and Mears confirmed Saturday.

Firefighters and others arrive for the Town Council’s early morning meeting Saturday to name an acting fire chief.

“The reason this meeting was necessary is because according to our charter, the town manager shall, it’s not a “may,” it’s not a “can,” it’s “shall” make a recommendation to the Town Council when the fire chief is out on a disability,” Town Council President Sue Cienki responded.

Cienki said McGillivray had recommended Mears for the job.

“All we’re doing is confirming his recommendation,” she said.

“By putting out an agenda and calling a Saturday morning meeting, you’ve created a tremendous amount of anxiety and insecurity,” Schwager said. “The chief is due to be back to two weeks. The charter calls for an appointment only in the event of an extended absence.”

The clause in the Charter reads: “In case of the extended absence or disability of the Fire Chief, the Town Manager shall appoint an Acting Fire Chief with the approval of the Town Council.”

After the meeting, Capt. Mears (the now acting fire chief) said he had not been told he was the person the Town Council was appointing and had never met or spoken with Town Manager Corrigan. On duty at the Fire Department Saturday morning, Mears had arrived at Town Hall only minutes before the meeting having been called there because of possible overcrowding. He said he had covered for Chief McGillivray perhaps 10 times in the past.

In an interview Thursday, Cienki said she didn’t know who Corrigan was planning to name. When asked if Corrigan would appoint the senior captain to the position as had been regular practice, Cienki said she did not know.

“I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on,” Cienki said after the Saturday morning meeting. She said the meeting needed to be held and that it “was not trolling of the fire department.”

She added, “I told you it was no big deal. I didn’t say who because I didn’t know Tom Mears’ name. I didn’t know who Russ appointed. I didn’t know he appointed anybody.”

Council to Take Unusual Vote on Interim Fire Chief Saturday

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan upped the ante in her battle with the East Greenwich Fire Department Thursday by calling for a special Town Council meeting Saturday morning (8/19) to appoint an “interim fire chief.” Fire Chief Russell McGillivray went out on a two-week medical leave starting Aug. 16.

The action is unusual.

Chief McGillivray took a weeklong vacation in early August and no such action was taken. Rather, as has been department practice, McGillivray deputized Captain Thomas Mears, a 20-year veteran, to lead the department in his absence. According to fire department sources, McGillivray did so again before this leave.

McGillivray chose the senior captain because there has been no deputy chief since Michael Sullivan retired from that position June 30. Corrigan decided to keep that position empty to save money to cover higher than budgeted overtime costs.

It happens that the appointment of an interim chief coincides with the end of a 12-month probation for six new firefighters on Tuesday (8/22). Two of the probationary firefighters came to the department from Central Coventry Fire District, including including David Gorman, an EG native who had been head of the Central Coventry firefighters union. Corrigan remains district manager/acting clerk of the Central Coventry Fire District.

Unless recommended by the fire chief, the town manager cannot terminate a probationary employee.

Cienki said she doesn’t know who Corrigan is planning to appoint.

Some close to the fire department have suggested Corrigan is planning to appoint former Fire Chief Peter Henrikson of EG, who departed the post after signing a separation agreement with the town in 2014.

If that’s the case, it would be a fire department family reunion of sorts, since Peter Henrikson’s wife, Kristen, was recently rehired to the job of fire clerk after having signed her own separation agreement in which she received a $86,000 payout, $73,000 beyond the vacation pay she was entitled to as per her contract.

East Greenwich News requested a copy of Peter Henrikson’s separation agreement Aug. 17. The town has two weeks to produce it under the Access to Public Records law. It refused an earlier APRA request to produce Kristen Henrikson’s separation agreement, despite this clause in the APRA law: Settlement agreements of any legal claims against a governmental entity shall be deemed public records.”

Corrigan singled out the Fire Department for budget excesses and hiring practices at her first review of town finances on June 5, while still a consultant for the town. She has since targeted Fire Department overtime budget excesses as a cause for alarm.

According to firefighter union President Bill Perry, two weeks ago Town Solicitor David D’Agostino asked if the union would consider talking about opening the firefighters’ contract with the town. The contract is not up for renewal until 2019. Perry said he told D’Agostino he would be willing to sit down with him to talk about opening the contract but that D’Agostino had not responded.

Council President Cienki also honed in on the EGFD in an email to residents Thursday, in which she highlighted the Fire Department as “unique among all town departments in that it overspends its budget every year.”

As for Saturday’s meeting, Cienki was nonchalant: “It’s nothing big. We need a chief.”

The public meeting will be held at Town Hall at 8:45 a.m. Here’s the agenda.

– Elizabeth F. McNamara

Crompton Ave. Fire Damages Back Porch

EG fire truck

Ed. Note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong address. Sorry for the confusion.

A fire Wednesday evening at 174 Crompton Ave. caused heavy damage to the house’s back porch but just slight smoke damage inside the house and there were no injuries, said Fire Chief Russell McGillivray.

The fire was called in at 6:51 p.m. after a neighbor noticed it. No one was home at the time.

McGillivray said one of the residents used the back porch for smoking and ashes from the wood stove had been dumped there – either one of those may have caused the blaze, he said.

The fire was extinguished from the outside and the residents have been able to remain in the house. It was not considered suspicious.

 

Middle Rd. House Heavily Damaged In Fire Saturday Night

middle road fire 1
Fire heavily damages the house at 1796 Middle Road Saturday night, Jan. 10.

A fire at 1796 Middle Road caused extensive damage Saturday night. Family members escaped unharmed; one firefighter suffered a minor injury while rescuing a dog, EG Fire Chief Russell McGillivray said.

EG fire got a call about the fire at around 7:30 p.m. In addition to EGFD, firefighters from Warwick, West Warwick and North Kingstown responded to the fire, McGillivray said. The cause of the fire is under investigation but it is not considered suspicious, he said.

The injured firefighter was bit in the hand by the dog as he was removing the animal from the house. He was treated at Kent Hospital and released.

The house belongs to George Smith. The Red Cross is providing temporary shelter for the family.

smith fire 2
The enclosed porch and the room next to the porch received the most damage.
smith fire 3
The Red Cross is providing temporary shelter for residents of the house.
smith fire 4
The enclosed porch.

 


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Fire Chief Says Zip Lines Dangerous After EG Accident Leads to Death

Fire Chief Russell McGillivray said residential zip lines are a bad idea following the death Monday of a young Cranston woman after she fell while using a zip line at a friend’s house on Cavalier Drive in East Greenwich.

Ashley Signoriello, 22, died Monday following surgery. The accident took place Friday, Dec. 5.

According to McGillivray, Signoriello was conscious and alert when East Greenwich rescue arrived. Following procedure, he said, they placed her on a backboard then took her to Rhode Island Hospital.

When asked if he had advice for homeowners with zip lines, McGillivray said, “Take ‘em down. It’s not something that people should throw up in their backyards and assume that everything going to be OK.”

He said people should leave zip lines to the professionals.

“It’s much more complicated than a swing set,” he said.

McGillivray said zip lines, like swimming pools and trampolines, are not subject to town permitting.

In recent years, there have been a few well-publicized deaths from zip line accidents, including the death of a 10-year-old boy last January after an accident in Easton, Mass., Dec. 26, 2013.

Ashley Signoriello’s obituary can be found here.