Meranti to Lead Troubled Fire Department

By Linda CarmaniBerkshires Staff
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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."

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Department Fire Services: Preventing and Dealing with Frozen Pipes

STOW - State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said, "We’re about to get some bitter cold weather which brings the risk of frozen pipes. It is important keep a bad situation from getting any worse; many people cause fires trying to thaw frozen pipes."

Tips for Preventing Frozen Pipes

  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the water drip from faucets with pipes in outside walls. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing. The temperature of the running water is above freezing.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  •  Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature day and at night. Don’t lower the temperature at night during the cold spell. It might raise the heating bill a little bit, but can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home or business set to a temperature no lower than 55ºF.
  • Shut off outside water.


To Thaw Frozen Pipes

  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Locate the area of the water pipe that might be frozen. The most likely places are pipes running against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt more ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, or wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame devices. A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause the pipe to explode. All open flames in homes present a serious fire danger, as well as a severe risk of exposure to lethal carbon monoxide.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
  • Be careful using space heaters to warm up areas near pipes. Don’t overload circuits. Plug space heaters directly into wall outlets. Try not to use extension cords but if you must, make sure it is rated for the appliance, and only use one. Heat producing appliances need stronger extension cords than lamps.
  • Remember not to leave the door of a gas oven open; it will produce large amounts of carbon monoxide.
  • Be sure there are working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on every level of the home.

"Fortunately the weather will warm up in the next few days which will help frozen pipes thaw and prevent additional pipes from freezing," Ostroskey said.


Protect Sprinklers Systems

In order to protect sprinkler systems, check on your building during to the cold snap, especially if you don’t have a low temperature alarm. Make sure that all portions of the building remain heated to at least 40°F and not exposed to freezing conditions. Setting the thermostat higher at least 50-60 °F during this cold snap will help make sure pipes in concealed areas stay warm.

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