PHILLIPS — Fourteen of the 17 active firefighters voted Thursday night to resign from the Municipal Volunteer Fire Department effective Feb. 9, according to a news release issued by members.

The department also covers the town of Avon and Madrid Township.

The department’s members were upset that the town manager did not consult with them about hiring a new fire chief when longtime Chief Jim Gould resigned Dec. 31. They are also upset that fair consideration wasn’t given to Deputy Chief Mark Rousseau, according to the release.

The decision had been made before he could submit his application, according to the statement. The position was not advertised, and they had never worked under newly appointed Chief Stephen Naas of Salem Township. They were not familiar with his style of leadership and were not comfortable having him as chief, according to the release.

They knew Naas as a Strong firefighter and through his work as a NorthStar EMS ambulance employee, Rousseau said.

“We like Steve,” Rousseau said. But he was not a member of the Phillips Fire Department and none of the members had ever worked under Naas’ command in an emergency situation. They had neither confidence nor trust in his ability to protect their lives and safety, Rousseau said.

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Naas resigned Friday morning, Town Manager Elaine Hubbard said. 

“As of this morning he is no longer an employee of the town, unfortunately,” she said.

She had not received resignations from the 14 firefighters as of noon Friday.

Hubbard said she had appointed Naas, an experienced firefighter, as the chief after the resignation of Gould. Naas’ appointment was from Jan. 1 to June 30. The position was not advertised, and Naas had not served previously on the Phillips Fire Department, she said. 

She brought her appointment of Naas before two selectmen around the holidays, she said. They did not have to confirm that appointment, both she and Selectman Andrew Phillips said Friday.

She does not have to advertise these types of jobs, she said, but she will now advertise for the position in a newspaper.

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Naas is an experienced firefighter who serves on the neighboring Strong Fire Department, and previously served as an officer with the Gardiner Fire Department.

Hubbard said Gould’s resignation, submitted in November, stated that he resigned because he needed more personal time with his family. Firefighters believed it was because an impasse was reached between Gould and Hubbard, according to the release.

Rousseau has been on the department for 18 years and has served as deputy chief for nine years and assistant chief for four years, he said. He also served as chief of the rescue service when the town had one. His full-time job is as a Maine forest ranger.

Fifteen Phillips firefighters signed a petition supporting Rousseau as chief and presented it to the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday. They appealed the decision to appoint Naas as fire chief and asked that the appointment be rescinded.

Acting board Chairman Andrew Phillips and Selectman Ray Gaudette heard the firefighters’ appeal and went into executive session with Hubbard and Naas, according to Phillips, Hubbard and Rousseau.

Afterward, Phillips told the firefighters that Naas had refused to voluntarily step down as fire chief and that selectmen had no involvement in the appointment, hiring, firing or discipline of any town employee or department head, and that they could do nothing to override Hubbard’s decision to appoint Naas, Phillips confirmed Friday.

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According to Phillips, the town manager by law has sole authority to hire or fire town employees. He had not heard of the firefighters’ resignations, he said.

The release from the department’s members said in part it was with deep regret that they could no longer serve the town, Avon and Madrid Township because of the process that was followed to appoint a new chief.

“We will continue to respond to emergency calls until Feb. 9 after which time we shall regretfully resign from the Phillips (Municipal) Volunteer Fire Department. It is our hope that the towns and township that we serve will have sufficient time to arrange for continuing fire protection services within the intervening time period,” the release stated.

The 14 members resigning from the department represent over 160 combined years of fire service and experience.

After Naas’ resignation, Rousseau said, “My hope is they all stay on the department because we are stretched so thin.”

Attempts to reach Naas and Gould on Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful.

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