TURNER – Steven A. Fish, controversial fire chief for the past 11 years, gave selectmen a letter of resignation that became effective at Monday night’s board meeting.
The resignation was accepted with regret by a 4-1 vote. Assistant Chief Shane Arsenault was appointed interim chief, until June 30, when all board appointments are reviewed. Applications for the top position in the volunteer department will be solicited and accepted beginning immediately.
Fish’s resignation was a surprise to all but selectmen and 40 firefighters and their families attending the regular board meeting. The chief had apparently told firefighters at a meeting last week he would be resigning. Volunteers met Sunday and elected Arsenault as their new chief.
Fish’s brief resignation letter gave no reasons. Until urged by selectmen, Fish was reluctant to discuss them.
“It’s in part medical, in part the pressure of not knowing how I am going to be judged by a self-appointed prosecutor, now a selectman. I have served this department for 27 years, 11 as chief, but you’re (selectmen) not happy with it and I have to watch my back all the time. It’s not worth it. I owe it to my family to spend more time with them and to concentrate on myself.”
Newest board member Charlie Mock said, “I have disagreed with your methods, but I appreciate your service, and the dignity with which you have resigned.”
Selectman Ralph Caldwell said, “I don’t like the way the department has been run, your style, but you have always had the best of intentions and I appreciate your service.”
Controversy swirled around Fish last summer when selectmen voted not to re-appoint him as chief. Legal haggling continued for months until selectmen did re-appoint him with some conditions, including establishing better relations with the town’s rescue service.
His resignation came at the same meeting selectmen had invited him to attend and answer questions regarding department’s vehicles, personnel and inspections.
During that discussion, the chief and others in the department admitted that until just last week, the department’s vehicles did not have state inspection stickers, and that repairs on a truck that has been out of service for more than a year have not been made.
Board Chairman Dennis Richardson said the “failure to have appropriate inspection stickers on the vehicles could present horrendous legal problems for the town in the event of an accident.”
Selectmen were assured that all vehicles are now stickered, and that work has begun in earnest on the long-out-of-service pumper.
The interim appointment of Arsenault was questioned at length by volunteers, who cited precedent for boards accepting the recommendation of the department members and appointing their candidate as chief. Selectmen responded that all appointments are made at the end of June, and appointing a fire chief would be no exception.
The board voted 4-1-1 to appoint Arsenault on an interim basis until June 30 and solicit and accept applications for the top spot. Selectman Henry Gibbert said he voted against the motion on Arsenault because he wanted to “honor the choice of the department’s volunteer members.”