Corrigan Argues for 56-Hour Work Week; Interim Chief Says He’s ‘Not a Fan’

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan presents her report to the Town Council April 9, 2018.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

Interim Fire Chief Kevin Robinson said during the Town Council meeting – after being asked by a resident during public comment – that he was “not a fan” of the 24-hour shifts required under Town Manager Gayle Corrigan’s proposed restructuring plan.

Corrigan presented her plan of action to reduce fire department overtime expenses to the Town Council Monday night, arguing that changing the shift structure from 4 platoons to 3 could allow the department to go from 36 to 30 employees while building in staff to cover for illness or injury.

That 56-hour work week plan is even now before Superior Court Judge Susan McGuirl. The town sued the firefighters in December asking that the court make a declaration that the town has the right to change the structure of the department unilaterally (i.e. without negotiating the change with the firefighters union).

Corrigan wants the council to approve the 56-hour work week but put it on hold until after McGuirl issues a ruling. A hearing is set on the town’s suit Monday, April 23.

Councilman Mark Schwager asked what to expect at that hearing.

Town Solicitor David D’Agostino said the town has asked Judge McGuirl to make a “judgment on the pleadings” – in other words, make a decision using just what is in front of her, with no additional discovery and no addition testimony. The judge could rule on April 23, he said, or she could ask for additional evidence.

“I don’t know if the court is going to be prepared to rule at that time,” D’Agostino said.

Under Corrigan’s proposed three-platoon system, firefighters would work 24 hours on, 48 hours off. The plan calls for 30 firefighters – 8 plus 2 floaters per shift – down from the current 36 firefighters. She recommends laying off the extra 6 firefighters based on seniority. In a four-platoon system, firefighters typically work 10 hours on, 14 hours off, 10 hours on, 24 hours off, 14 hours on, 96 hours off.

She argued that with seven firefighters on “injured on duty” status, it’s like the fire department is already working with only three platoons and she called the proposed reorganization even more of a safety issue than a fiscal one.

After admitting he was not a fan of 24-hour shifts, Chief Robinson said the important thing was to cut down on the number of hours firefighters were working, regardless of the shift structure. In his budget for fiscal year 2019, Robinson has a $1.2 million line item for overtime. Three quarters of a year into fiscal year 2018, $573,000 has been spent on EGFD overtime. Finance Director Linda Dykeman projects the final number to be just under $800,000. Meanwhile, the number of firefighters has remained constant at 36 since 2006, while calls have gone up nearly a third.

Corrigan also outlined possible changes in fire service delivery in the event Judge McGuirl rules against the town, including allowing the chief reduce the number of firefighters on duty overnight, making the department a volunteer service or privatizing the emergency medical rescue service.

Corrigan said she will present a candidate to fill the deputy chief position on an interim basis at the Town Council meeting May 14. No vote on the plan was taken Monday night.

For more information about Corrigan’s presentation, see our earlier story. Watch the entire meeting here.

Town Council Names New Interim Fire Chief

Town Clerk Leigh Carney swears in Kevin C. Robinson of Marshfield, Mass., as interim East Greenwich  fire chief.

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

The Town Council voted 3-1 to approve the appointment of Kevin Robinson of Marshfield, Mass., to serve as interim fire chief Monday. This follows the recent departure of former interim Fire Chief Christopher Olsen, who was appointed following the dismissal of Fire Chief Russell McGillivray on Nov. 6.

Council President Sue Cienki, Vice President Sean Todd and Councilman Andy Deutsch voted in favor of the appointment; Councilman Mark Schwager voted against.

Robinson served as fire chief of Marshfield for 12 years. He resigned days after being placed on administrative leave after a three-month investigation into alleged impropriety and ethics violations, according to a statement by Town Administrator Rocco Longo and reported in the Wicked Local Marshfield.

Town Manager Gayle Corrigan, who recommended Robinson’s appointment, released this statement in response to questions about his past work history:

“We are aware of his departure from the Town of Marshfield, where he climbed the ranks of the Fire Department over the course of his 37 year tenure. Chief Robinson comes highly recommended to us and his experience and credentials speak for themselves.”

Before the vote, Town Councilman Mark Schwager explained why he would be voting no.

“We’re now about to appoint our second interim fire chief in three months. Chief Robinson seems a reasonable candidate for the position. I have no ill will against the chief. But I have not been presented before tonight the chief’s credential’s or CV. The council did not interview the chief. We have not had a chance to review his references. At the present time, I have not seen the contract that he may sign tonight. So … I don’t have adequate information to make an informed decision and therefore will be voting no on this decision.”

Corrigan said she used the search firm Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI) out of New Hampshire to conduct the search – the same firm that located Chief Olsen. Corrigan said it had always been the plan to have two interim fire chiefs and that the search for a permanent chief would take place during the second interim chief’s four- to six-month tenure.

Later in the meeting, Council President Cienki conceded that they had asked Olsen if he could extend his stay but that he had declined.

Robinson steps into the position at a difficult time for the fire department. The town has blamed financial difficulties on high firefighter overtime and recently filed suit against the firefighters in an effort to change the platoon structure.

The Town Council meets again on Wednesday, Jan. 24, in executive session only. All seven items on the agenda regard current litigations facing the town.

Obituary: Donald Edmund Robinson, 90

Don Robinson
Don Robinson

Donald Edmund Robinson, 90, husband of Marilyn (Hughes) Robinson, for 70 years, passed away on Feb. 5, at the Veterans Medical Center in Providence. Donald was born in Manchester, N.H. He was the son of Edmund J. and Gertrude (Moore) Robinson.

He is survived by his wife and sons Gary E. and his wife Jennifer, and Clifford A. and his wife Laurie. Don was a proud and devoted grandfather of Stephanie, Seth, David, Samuel, Sarah, Benjamin, and Julianna, three great grandsons, Andrew, Joey and Shane, and neices and nephews. Don was predeased by son Steven D. Robinson. He leaves two sisters, Dorothy Pincince and Marion Kelly.

Donald graduated from Cranston High School and Boston University (CGE) class of 1948. He served in the Navy in World War II, and had a 30-year career in industrial sales, becoming owner and president of Laird deVou, Inc.

He and his wife enjoyed many years of square dancing with the Whirlaways Square Dance Club, also spending winters in Fort Myers, Fla. He was a fan of the Red Sox and the Patriots and enjoyed playing golf with Gary and friends. Don was a Mason, Harmony Lodge #9F&AM and a lifetime member of the Methodist Church, loved serving in many ways through the years.

Calling hours are respectfully omitted. A memorial service will be held at the East Greenwich United Methodist Church, 1558 South County Trail, on Sunday, Feb. 22, at 3 p.m. Donations may be made to the church in his memory.

The online obituary and condolence page can be found here.