Councilor follows firetruck, posts video of the trip

AUBURN — City Councilor Mike Farrell figures the current conflict between him and the Auburn Professional Firefighters Local 797 isn't about emails or where the firetrucks go in the afternoon.

"It's about power," Farrell said. "It's about who's going to be in charge and making the decisions: the city or the union."

Now he's posted an 11-minute video to YouTube, taken at 2:34 p.m. Monday, June 6, that shows Auburn Fire Engine 3 driving around the southern part of the city. 

Farrell said he did not record the video to retaliate against firefighters for requesting access to emails but because of what it shows.

"They drive around in those trucks and it costs the city money," Farrell said. "They always say it's for training. That's always their excuse."

Acting Fire Chief Geoff Low said the June 6 trip that Farrell recorded has a simple explanation: His firefighters were touring the route of a drill that was scheduled for June 14 involving multiple fire agencies.

"They were doing the final drive, making sure it was safe to conduct the training," Low said. "They were making sure nobody had placed a trailer, for example, in a way that would block a truck from getting by."

Farrell said he was driving down Manley Road heading to the Post Office when he realized Auburn's Engine 3, stationed out of the department's Minot Avenue fire station, was driving ahead of him.

"I've had people telling me that they go out on these joy rides, so I decided to follow them and see where they were going," Farrell said. He took out his cell phone and began recording the trip.

Farrell posted his original video to YouTube on Tuesday. Because of a quirk in the video recording, the video is shown sideways. The Sun Journal downloaded and edited Farrell's original video, rotating it 90 degrees counterclockwise and reposted it the Sun Journal's YouTube channel. Farrell's original video is still available for viewing.

Farrell followed the truck as it continued south on Hotel Road, turning right onto Lewiston Junction Road. From there, the truck drove past the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, turning left onto Aviation Avenue and then right onto Flight Line Drive. It turned left into a dirt lot just west of the airport's taxiway and stopped.

Farrell continued onto Kittyhawk Avenue, turned around and waited.

The truck emerged after a few minutes, returning to Lewiston Junction via Flight Line Drive and Aviation Avenue. The truck turned left onto Lewiston Junction, then left on Kittyhawk and left again onto Flight Line Drive, with Farrell following and recording. After making that loop, the driver waved to Farrell. Farrell waved back and stopped recording.

He said he looped back up Hotel Road and stopped at the Dairy Queen on Minot Avenue. The firetruck came up Manley Road a few minutes later, turning onto Minot Avenue and returning to the station.

"There just didn't seem to be much of a point to the trip," Farrell said. "They just seemed to be driving around."

Farrell said he has heard numerous complaints about the trucks being used for non-emergency business, specifically stopping at area stores to shop.

Low said the department suspended that practice this spring, sending smaller vehicles out on errands. It initially stopped allowing the larger pieces of equipment to be used for building inspections and special events, such as festivals and running races, but allows those uses now.

"I really think all of this comes down to a large misunderstanding on the part of some councilors and a lack of communication," Acting Chief Low said. "What they need to understand is that my door is open. If they have any questions, they can bring them directly to me."

Low said Farrell and the other councilors' conflict is not with his department, but with the union.

"I know the players are the same, but there has to be a line drawn between the Fire Department and the firefighters' union," Low said. "As far as the union, Local 797, I have no control over them or what they do."

The union filed a lawsuit in Androscoggin County Superior Court against the city, the city manager and city councilors in May. The civil suit claims city officials violated state laws that allow access to public records. The union also claimed city officials violated members' civil rights.

The union filed a Freedom of Access Act request with the city in March, asking for all City Council and manager emails having to do with complaints or concerns about the Fire Department and its vehicles on the road, fuel cost-saving measures and life-safety inspections performed by the department.

Local 797 President Craig Bouchard said the union's goal is to understand the reasoning behind changes to the department's policies concerning use of city vehicles.

"We started to see operational changes that affected services," Bouchard said. Among those changes was the new vehicle-use policy.

"We talked with Chief Low and he had not received any complaints ... they had originated with councilors and with the city manager," he said. "If there are changes that must be made, we would like to be able to work with the chief to address those concerns. We feel that we do have a good working relationship with the chief and with the city manager and Assistant City Manager (Phil) Crowell."

Union officials said they had received documents from City Councilors Eric Samson, Belinda Gerry and Bob Hayes. Mayor Dick Gleason said he had no emails that met the union's request. Councilor Dan Herrick said he does not use email.

Farrell has said he would release his emails if the union paid him a $40 fee. 

Maine's open records law allows Freedom of Access request recipients to charge a reasonable fee. Farrell said he is charging for five hours' worth of work to go through almost 18 months of emails on his Yahoo! account.

Farrell on Tuesday showed the Sun Journal 176 emails on his laptop dating back to March 2010, all gathered on his Yahoo! mail account by searching the word "fire." Many were not connected to city business. Some pertained to his son's junior hockey league — one of the teams was named "The Fire" — and others were personal emails he received from firefighter acquaintances in New Hampshire.

Several were city emails that referenced general budget topics, which included the Fire Department. A handful referred to the firefighter use of emergency vehicles, and those included messages to City Manager Glenn Aho from Farrell questioning the practice, Aho's responses and two messages from constituents who reported seeing vehicles out.

Farrell said he had also received phone calls and talked personally with residents concerned about firetruck use, but their names were not mentioned in the emails. Farrell said he was not sure that that's what the union officials want.

"Do they want to go knock on those people's doors?" Farrell said.

Bouchard said union members wouldn't do that. "It's just not something any firefighter would do."

Farrell said it took a single word search to find the 176 emails.

"But that's not comprehensive," he said. "I have somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 emails in this account and I'll have to sort through each one in order to make sure that I'm giving them what they want. And that will take time."

Farrell said he's standing his ground on the email issue. He'll give copies to the union officials when they agree to pay his costs.

"People said that I should just give in, give them what they want," Farrell said. "But what happens next time they want something from the city? This goes back years and it's all bad communication on both sides. We're never going to settle it until we get it all out in the open, and I'm perfectly willing to just let everything come to a big, crusty head."

Bouchard said the union would wait to see what happens next.

"Unless councilors Farrell and Herrick volunteer those emails, the next step is up to the courts," Bouchard said.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Kaileigh Tara's picture

First, do you really believe everything you read in the paper?

LOL...
I can speak from my experience. Since police and fire rescue are Union, they usually get very similar contracts.
While I was in office, entry level police officers in Lewiston were earning barely 9.00/hour. And they did not even have access to health insurance until their 7th month.

When that woman was killed in Lewiston- the domestic violence event where the man shot her as she was trying to leave him. That happened with a police officer present, and that young man was making just a few cents about $8.00/hour. I remember being horrified by the crime, but also embarrassed that that pittance was what we paying that young man to risk his life that day and any other...
So, that is just one example... there are more, even if their wages have gone up in recent years, so has the cost of living.
Over twelve years ago research was done to evaluate wages in relation to minimum wage and the TRUE minimum that is required to live in Maine.
Again, over 12 months ago: a single parent with two children needed to take home $11.50 an hour just to get by-- basic living expenses, no allowance for saving for emergencies - it was bottom level of living, It was meant to illustrate about the "true" minimum wage required for a family to get by. No extras or luxuries.

Joe Gray's picture

Avg APD firefighter basic pay $41,422

If you take the money in this years budget ($1,491,182.00) and divide that by the number of Firefighters in the APD (36) you will get $41,422 basic pay. That is average basic pay of our front line firefighters. That total is more than the average household in Auburn brings home ($37,543).

If we then add overtime, holiday pay, and all the other pay categories, plus benefits, we are talking serious money. And that is far more generous than most residents of Auburn are making.

So, do you still consider APD to be getting insultingly low wages?

Clarence Turner's picture

Auburn fire department

Just because an entry level First Responder or fireman gets very little pay,does that give them the right to do what ever they want to and make up their own rules for how they do there job?
I was just making a comment as to why two or three fire trucks were needed at a medical emergency when an ambulance and a police officer are there?No i have no training.Just a citizen wondering about the fire department responding to a medical emergency if an ambulance is at the scene as well.I was always led to believe ambulance personel were fully trained and qualified to do their job in any emergency.If that is true than what more can fireman do for a patient than what is already being done by the ambulance personel.Sorry if my comments upset Kaileigh Tara.The only time i would complain/sue anyone if they were negligent in respoding and giving treatment.If fireman are trained to perform other things that ambulance personel do not know how to do,than i could understand them being there as well.The article in the paper led me to believe that the fire department was doing something they should not have been doing regardless of how under paid they are.Also having three fire trucks respond to a medical emergency before they are needed seems unecessary to me.

Kaileigh Tara's picture

It is crazy..

First, Mr Farrell and Mr. Herrick have shown their --y'know I cannot come up with one word, lack of respect, lack of maturity, lack of knowledge and certainly not one ounce of true statesmenship...they are the reason that people make fun of elected officials...and why people don't run...shame on them.
I am just at the point that I "just shake my head" and just when I think they have hit a low... here they come...
and the comments here...Blows my mind how regular citizens are quick to rush to judgment about "how to respond to an emergency, Mr Turner" You have got to be kidding, what training do you have? and I guarantee that you would be the first to complain/sue if you had an emergency and the "right" response was not given you...
Kudos to those of you below who have tried, in a logical and rational manner to explain and educate. That is a noble gesture. What I learned while in public office is there are the kinds of people who question and who earnestly want the best and are willing to learn and engage in the process for change...if/when it is needed.
THEN there are those who live in a very paranoid, negative world, who only distrust and complain, not usually with accurate information. THEY have no intention of creating change for a positive reason, they just love the arguing, the anger, the fear and the judgment, they live for the high of intense encounters... BUT they do not serve a higher purpose in their actions.
There are a group of individuals who are very active in responding to stories/letters who fit that description. It is truly a waste of time to engage with them.
Keep engaging those who honestly want to understand and participate.
AND to ALL First Responders who we pay insultingly low salaries to for the dedication, required training and ALL they give that is NEVER compensated for: I ADMIRE AND RESPECT YOU ALL. I AM GRATEFUL FOR ALL YOU DO. DON'T LET THE IDIOTS GET YOU DOWN. YOUR SERVICE TO OUR COMMUNITY MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE. THANK YOU. BLESSED BE.

Joe Gray's picture

What is insulting about the wages an entry level fireman makes?

Please enlighten us as to what is insulting in an AFD entry level wage? You state it like you know it is insultingly low. What is the wage? I am not trying to fight, I am simply trying to understand your point of view...

Leo Camire's picture

Retired

Denis and how is it that you retired as a Captain of AFD and now are collecting a pension from the City of Auburn ? Not by choice. Check out the link.

http://sor.informe.org/cgi-bin/sor/step3.pl?id=1447&search=2&city=AUBURN...

Kaileigh Tara's picture

wHY DO WE BLAME PEOPLE WHO

achieve career goals? It is something we all aspire to, to retire early?? You make it seem evil and bad to benefit from working.
We insult, really it is offensive how little we pay entry level First Responders, they often cannot even support their families on that salary.
Your fear and judgment are so counter productive. It is just WRONG in every way that matters...

Denis Ducharme's picture

That's the best you can do

That's the best you can do Leo. Old news, and for your info, and feel free to check the personal files at City Hall, that has nothing to do with my retirement. This article isn't about me anyhow, just giving my opinion as a home and business owner in Auburn. Stop in the store Leo, we can talk about my
awesome retirement I worked for and deserve. Oh that's right, no balls, which explains the voice.

Terry Donald's picture

This guy is driving around

This guy is driving around operating a video camera instead of paying attention to the road???? Somebody write the DB a ticket!!! That's as dangerous as our now illegal texting while driving!

Tony Morin's picture

Hilarious

And the winner of this year's Frederick Wintle Award for Erratic Behavior by a Politician is........Mike Farrell! Congrats Mike!!

Denis Ducharme's picture

Get a Life.

As a retired Captain of AFD, many hours are spent training new firefighters how to operate these giant,specialized rigs. Many of you are not aware that no special license is needed to drive fire apparatus in the state of Maine. So you get a 21 year old kid out of the Fire Program, and the biggest thing he has driven is a VW GTI. I for one, appreciate the countless hours of training afforded these professionals, not only in driver training, but all aspects of the fire service and EMS. Kepp up the good work AFD.

As for Councilor Farrell, a little driver training would go a long way. I see you driving with a camera stuck to your face, pulling a U-turn, cruising through a stop sign...come on, get a life. Take you issue up with the Union in the appropriate arena, and maybe get a little driver traing through AFD, you sure need it.

Keith Dutton's picture

Fuel is a small part of the budget

"They drive around in those trucks and it costs the city money," Farrell said. "They always say it's for training. That's always their excuse."

With a 25-year career in fire and EMS, and 10 of those as a department chief, I heard that complaint also. But the fact is fuel expenses "driving around" is a very, very small part of a department's budget. The city is already paying for salaries, equipment, training, overhead, etc. while the apparatus is sitting there. Add a few gallons of diesel fuel to the cost of "driving around," and it's a drop in the bucket.

I haven't been in the AFD for a few decades, but it's clear from retired friends and newspaper articles that the current city manager and some council members don't support the AFD.

Jerome Young's picture

Like anyone else who operates

Like anyone else who operates heavy equipment, those guys need to be out driving those big trucks around and getting used to each vehicle, how it handles in small areas etc. Each vehicle has it s own characteristics. So, driving them around is a good thing.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Expertise

Why is it that people who have no children always think they are experts on how a child should be raised and people with little or no medical training are always diagnosing everybody around them and people who know nothing about fighting fires think they know how it should be done?

ERNEST LABBE's picture

It would appear

It would that councilman Farrell is unaware of the driving while distracted laws. Hedrove around for ii minutes while making a video. Good thing he didn't crash. Then he would have a fight with the police union.

As far as pleasure trips with the equiptment to be operational these men need their tools near by. IE: they need to be with their fire apperatus. All citizens of any city or town should be thankful that they have these dedicated employees on duty 24/7 protecting their life and property.

Clarence Turner's picture

Auburn fire department

Wow,the things you learn about when you read the newspaper.Nice to know someone is paying attention to what our city employees are doing when on the job working.The statement Chief Low made after the fact ""I really think all of this comes down to a large misunderstanding on the part of some councilors and a lack of communication," Acting Chief Low said."That sounds a little like a spur of the moment response or pass the blame on like after a kid gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar.Ok Chief Low,than why take a fire truck to find this out,why not take the less expensive fire department car to do this?
Myself i wonder about when a 911 call comes in about a heart attack or other medical emergency situation.Why is there sent to the scene 2 or 3 fire trucks a police officer and ambulance?Can't the police officer and ambulance personel take care of the situation?Can't the officer access the situation and determine if the fire department is needed or not before they are sent?Seems like a waste of taxpayers money to have the fire department show up than 5 minutes later return back to the station because they are not needed.Maybe a good policy doing so but it seems rather dumb and wasteful of money to me.

Keith Dutton's picture

Clarence, here's why...

It's called a "tier-response." The number of vehicles isn't what's important; the number of trained people on site is what's important. More advanced life support calls (shortness of breath, chest pain, unconscious, etc.) require more than just the "ambulance personnel and a police officer." Even if the arriving firefighters are simply taking in the stretcher and equipment, they are providing a valuable service to the patient.

Remember Clarence, your tax dollars are already paying for the firefighters (some are cross-training as EMTs and Paramedics) at the station. Fire departments that provide EMS services usually have a call volume that is at least 75% medical and 25% fire responses. The cost for them to respond to a medical emergency (even if they are not needed) is only a few dollars of fuel.

Gary Grenier's picture

Skillet makes a great

Skillet makes a great soundtrack to the video!

RONALD RIML's picture

The 'Councilors' are obviously 'In Charge'

But don't have to act like Boss Hogg....

Those 'Joy-Rides' are not always joy-rides - and it is most efficient - though not cost-wise - to go out in the trucks for the following reason:

Go out in a small vehicle to save gas - then get a call. Then you have to return to the station, get your gear, and saddle up in the appropriate apparatus.

So you've just wasted enough response time for someone to get crisped to a crunch and lose an entire structure.....

Way to think things through, Councilor Farrell.

Ed Enos's picture

Nice

Well thought out comment, soundly based in logic. Not too often I agree, but, as always, well stated.

Mark Belanger's picture

Good Job Mike. They did the

Good Job Mike. They did the same in Rumford and I believe you have a couple of Rumford area guys working for you. It is amazing how much they get away with at the taxpayers expense. If you keep digging I am sure will find much more waste. The taxpayers of Auburn will thank you.

Roberta Greenlaw's picture

use of free time with fire truck

these councillors are doing a great job as well as Belinda. we need more of them Keep it up Dan and Mike there is so much waste and always someone looking for workers comp

Joe Gray's picture

Bouchard makes Farrells point for him

"We talked with Chief Low and he had not received any complaints ... they had originated with councilors and with the city manager," he said. "If there are changes that must be made, we would like to be able to work with the chief to address those concerns. We feel that we do have a good working relationship with the chief and with the city manager and Assistant City Manager (Phil) Crowell."

Doesn't the above quote validate Councilor Farrell's comment about it being about who is in charge? If there are changes to be made, then the firefighters must make them, not negotiate them. They work for the city and the city is the boss, not the union. The union is there to negotiate issues like pay and safety. This is not one of those issues. This is about using the fire equipment in a manner not consistent with job requirements.

%LAFONTAINE ATLAS SUPPLY CO.'s picture

"Unless councilors Farrell

"Unless councilors Farrell and Herrick volunteer those emails, the next step is up to the courts," Bouchard said.

Councilor Dan Herrick said he does not use email.

Huh? They're taking the city to court for something that doesn't even exist??

Joe Gray's picture

YOU believe what you want Mr Breton

I would ask anyone here to show an email that Councilor Herrick has written. I know Councilor Herrick and can vouch for never receiving an email from him. If you have one Mr Breton or know someone who does, bring it forward and then we will all believe the same thing you believe about this subject. Please prove your point.

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