RUMFORD – The local firefighters union is going ahead with plans to call for arbitration after a grievance filed with the town in November.

Richard Coulombe, secretary for Local 1601, International Association of Firefighters, said the move was made because the town did not reply to a request to extend time to file for arbitration. The grievance was denied by the board at the time.

At issue is a grievance filed in November calling for installation of a sprinkler system, fire alarm system, and appropriate egress from the second floor. All are considered life and safety issues at the 80-year-old Congress Street fire station.

Coulombe said the union submitted a letter to the town, dated Jan. 2, asking for an extension of the timeline to file for arbitration.

Local union President Mark Tripp said the firefighters realized all the changes couldn’t be made at once – they’re estimated to cost about $50,000 – so they wanted approval to extend the timeline until after the June election. At that time, money needed to make some of the improvements may be approved by voters.

To not receive the extension means that the union would have to start over again with the grievance procedure, Tripp said.

“We were asking to save all the steps over again,” he said.

Coulombe said another letter was sent to the town on Jan. 25, stating the union’s intention to file for arbitration unless a response was received by municipal officials.

“We never got an answer,” Coulombe said. “Your non-reply is a no, so we’re filing for arbitration.”

The matter was on the Rumford selectmen’s Feb. 7 meeting agenda, but was withdrawn by the firefighters’ union.

Firefighters are frustrated with slowness in correcting life and safety matters they say have been around for more than 15 years.

Firefighter Chris Bryant said the matter came up in the early 1990s when discussions began about building a new station, then again a few years ago when talks started again to build a new facility. Now, many firefighters believe the matter has returned to the back burner.

“It’s a bad image for the Fire Department,” Tripp said.

He said firefighters must inspect other buildings to ensure they have proper safety installations, while the fire station does not.

With arbitration, a neutral party will be chosen to decide what steps the town must take, if any.

“We want to see some effort made. It will depend on the arbitrator’s decision,” Tripp said.

Town Manager Jim Doar said Friday night that regardless of an arbitrator’s decision, funds won’t be available to make any of the changes until and unless people vote that way during the June elections.

He said it is up to the union’s attorney to contact the town’s attorney to set up a meeting with an arbitrator.

In response to the firefighters’ belief that no reply meant “no” to a request for an arbitrator extension, he said he placed the item on the agenda as soon he could.

“We can’t conduct business outside of meetings. We put it on the first meeting we could. I don’t understand why they would have withdrawn their request,” he said.

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