Meranti to Lead Troubled Fire Department
|The North Adams Fire Department leadership team is in transition, with the exit of fire director Craig Rougeau|
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Mayor John Barrett III announced yesterday that Stephen Meranti, longtime local wire inspector and Clarksburg Volunteer Fire Department veteran, will be the new city fire director, heading a department that has been embroiled in recent controversy.
Meranti, 38, who will begin his duties today, succeeds Craig Rougeau, who is taking early retirement after 32 years in the department, nine of them as director. Barrett announced the appointment to the $55,000-a-year post, which will include the wire inspector's responsibilities, at a press conference at City Hall.
Combining the two responsibilities will save the city $30,000, Barrett said.
Meranti takes on fire director's post after the recent firing of the department's union president, Peter Robare, and the suspension of another firefighter for allegedly intimidating a reserve. Most important in his choice, Barrett said, was Meranti's strong training and background in working the front lines at accident scenes, fires and emergency situations over the years.
"He's walking in at a very difficult time, but I have great confidence in him," Barrett said. As a former fourth-grade teacher, Barrett taught Meranti in school. Accompanied by his wife, Tammy, and sons Matthew, 6, and Mitchell, 9, Meranti said the fire director's job had been a longtime dream.
"This was my goal," said Meranti, who has been a Clarksburg firefighter for 11 years. He said he had enjoyed working alongside Rougeau. "I hope to continue the professionalism he brought to the office."
Barrett, speaking about the embattled department, said, "It is our intention to maintain the department as a full-time department, but we need the cooperation of existing firefighters."
He said he planned to ask soon for reinstatement of three laid-off firefighters, because more retirements are expected. But, he said, "We need cooperation. This is the last year of the contract, and we need them to sit down and begin talks."
Barrett said firefighters had been invited to meet Monday morning, at which time he had planned to inform them of Meranti's appointment, but "They were told not to attend."
He did not elaborate but hinted he was talking about union officials. "I'm fully prepared to bring back the three officers who were laid off," he said. "But we've got to be able to sit down with them [the department] and its legal representatives. "And that means we must be able to use reserves. That's the key."
Barrett has maintained that firefighters have fought hard against reserves and made them unwelcome in the professional department. Asked about the outcome of an investigation into alleged intimidation of a reserve firefighter who had been called in for temporary duty in June and left before serving one day, Barrett said, "I took action." He said an investigation showed that only one firefighter had been directly linked to the intimidation and has been suspended. He did not name the firefighter, but knowledgeable sources said it was Jeffrey Cellana.
Barrett would not specify the length of suspension.
The night of June 2, reserve firefighter Joseph Johnson of Somerville checked out of the Holiday Inn before he was supposed to show up to fill in for a vacationing firefighter the next day. At the time, Barrett charged that Johnson had received a threatening telephone call at 10:16 p.m., then left. Barrett recently fired Robare, an acting fire lieutenant and president of Local 1781, a 17-year department veteran, but has been silent about the reason. The firing reportedly had to do with supposed inflammatory remarks Robare had made to another union member.
A union official was quoted in local daily newspapers as saying the union is reviewing the case to see if the firing was related to union activity. Barrett and Robare have long been at loggerheads.
Also at yesterday's press conference, Barrett praised Rougeau for an outstanding job as firefighter, lieutenant and fire director. "He's been a good friend and supportive," he said.
Meranti, a 1983 honor graduate of C.H. McCann Technical School, has a strong background in fire science and more than 20 years' experience as an electrician as well as having done extensive work in code enforcement. He has worked 17 years for the city, first as assistant in the wire and alarm division, and for the past 10 years as its head.
"He certainly fits the bill perfectly," Barrett said.
Meranti and his family live in Clarksburg, where he plans to remain on the fire department, he said. Asked if he has a strategy for calming the city department's ongoing troubles, he replied, "I'll see once I get in there."