Alan Ackley, president of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District, could use a good PIO, but obviously the cash-strapped district can’t afford a public relations officer, so Ackley has to do the job. But how hard could it be? The Ackley family has business experience, knows how to advertise and sell booze and mobile homes, and knows how to manipulate a vote. Alan’s quality PR work can be seen on tape for the February 26, 2014, monthly fire board meeting. PR gems from the meeting include the following not necessarily in chronological order.
Joke About the Frozen Hydrant
Alan’s brother Randy, who sits on the board and manages High Rock Trailer Park, joked about asking the water district for a refund because of the frozen hydrant that delayed water on February 17 when a High Rock mobile home burned to the ground. No discussion whatsoever about why High Rock has no hydrants, but Ackley recommended that the board delay full payment on the next hydrant rental bill in May, a clear indication of the Ackley’s concern for public safety.
Complain About Freedom of Information
Board member Nancy Beckwith fretted about all the freedom of information complaints she’s faced with. She asked for legal assistance the next time she has to go to Hartford for an FOI hearing. Of course, that means paying the attorney $300.00 an hour, a clear indication of the board’s desire to save the district money. One board member referred to the FOI complaints as “frivolous crap.” Ackley said nothing in response nor suggested that overuse of executive session generated the impression that the board wanted to hide information from the taxpayers.
Diminish the Importance of Fire Prevention
Board member Ron Yuhas, wearing his usual black T-shirt with a pocket, proposed saving overtime pay for the district by having the fire inspector fill in for a sick or injured firefighter, a clear indication of the board’s concern for preventing fires. Yuhas did not have the text for a motion ready to make the personnel policy change and asked board vice president, Gary Bertman, to word a motion on the spot, because, according to Yuhas, Bertman was good at that sort of thing because, we have to guess, Yuhas, who is functionally illiterate, thinks a medical degree helps people speak good.
Entertain Muddled Motions
Bertman attempted a motion that was really two motions: to study the feasibility of having the fire inspector work in two positions, and to approve the change in personnel policy. Board member Deb Monteiro refused to vote on any motion without hard data on money saved by the personnel policy change; Monteiro also raised the possibility of legal problems if the board arbitrarily started moving people around who may or may not be qualified for a job. Ackley asked the chief if the fire inspector would be qualified for a firefighter/ems position. The chief mumbled and waffled. Ackley grew frustrated by the need to pay even more for lawyers and declared the labor contract allowed the board to act in an emergency to do whatever the hell it pleased with personnel, and, by God, the district was in a fiscal emergency. Bertman withdrew his motion.
Reject Compromise from a Supporter on the Board
Board member Peter Legnos sought the middle ground. He said the board had caused enough acrimony with arbitrary decisions and needed to talk to people (meaning the fire inspector and the union) before making decisions like a change in personnel policy. The board, Legnos said, needed to be less confrontational. Yuhas brilliantly retorted by saying that the firefighters needed to change, not the board—a rhetorical flourish fit for a schoolyard. Ackley grew more frustrated.
Ignore the Fire Protection Needs of a Board Member
Legnos added insult to injury with mention that the PBFD fire inspector had toured his business recently and had done a very professional job. According to the Connecticut secretary of state corporate database, Legnos owns LBI, Inc, located at 973 North Road in Groton, which is in the district, but he lives outside the district on a picturesque spit of land in Groton Long Point. Legnos is the LBI president, secretary, director, and agent for his business. In other words, unlike the Ackley clan, he doesn’t have a group of relatives named in his business filing.
And Legnos has good reason to want the fire inspector to visit LBI, Inc, and good reason to want the best fire protection and emergency medical services his tax dollar can buy. LBI, according to its website, “specializes in design and rapid prototyping of composite and thermoform products for the marine environment. LBI provides technical service and products including systems engineering, mechanical design, prototyping and fabrication, installation support, testing, evaluation, problem resolution, production manufacturing, repair and overhaul, warehousing and inventory management.” For manufacturing, overhaul, and repair, “LBI maintains a stock of fiberglass, vinylester, bonding compound and epoxy resins, associated applicators and tools, along with proprietary products.”
Even if you don’t care about your lungs, smoking can be hazardous to your health in any workplace using “fiberglass, vinylester, bonding compound and epoxy resins.” More than your lungs will be ruined following ignition. LBI also boasts a paint shed and a 500 degree Grieve industrial oven that, according to Grieve, has to meet “National Fire Protection Association Standard 86, Industrial Risk Insurers, Factory Mutual and OSHA standards. For some applications, such as those involving flammable solvents or hazardous locations, the above organizations require additional safety devices.” In other words, Legnos is not running a trailer park and a hydrant sits on North Road right across from the driveway into LBI.
So you see, fire inspectors have considerable knowledge work to do when they’re not visiting hazardous business sites, such as LBI, Inc. And for those of you who think that’s a heck of a lot of gummit (and insurance industry) interference in free enterprise, keep in mind that LBI is a government contractor or a subcontractor for contractors who work with, you know, the Navy. And if you think the fire prevention standards for LBI are tough or that the PBFD fire inspector has to be well educated on fire hazards and their prevention, you don’t know the Navy. The Navy invented fire prevention and suppression, because when a fire starts on a ship, the crew has nowhere to go.
Lose Your Temper and Pay Late Fees
Nonetheless, Alan Ackley, being the smooth politician, master of public relations, and master consensus builder that he is, lost it with Peter Legnos. Near the end of the meeting, Legnos had to throw up his hands in that universal gesture that said, “Whoa, calm down, Alan.”
But it seems, under Ackley’s guidance, the board stumbled to some sort of consensus on the need move into the 21rst century to pay bills online like LBI, Inc. does after Chief Paige reported that the district loses money each month on late payment fees because it has to wait around for three signatures, just like the old days before computers and epoxy resins and hydrants.
—Barry Roberts Greer, editor
A former firefighter with an MPA, Greer is author of three firefighting books: “Pipe Nozzle,” “Seven Two,” and “Of Cowards and Firefighters.” He’s currently at work on “Engine 10,” a novel based loosely on PBFD political lunacy.