Fire chief, town manager respond to 'no confidence' vote

Fire Chief Michael Mansfield 

The town's firefighters want a new chief — but current Chief Michael Mansfield said he wants to work with the ranks to address their complaints of a hostile work environment, a lack of respect and other issues.

Meanwhile, Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said he is reviewing issues that led to a letter from the firefighters union expressing a lack of confidence in the chief. Flanagan said he has confidence in the chief and that Mansfield will continue in the job, while efforts are made for him and the union to work together more effectively.

The Andover Firefighters Union, local 1658, last week published a letter of "no confidence" in Mansfield, the town's fire chief for the past 13 years.

The union cited a number of problems and issues and wrote, "It is time for Andover to strongly consider a new fire chief to lead this department," in the letter, published last Tuesday on the union's Facebook page.

Reached the day the letter was published, Mansfield initially said he was unaware of the "no confidence" action, although Union President Eric Teichert said firefighters told him about it previously.

Mansfield issued a statement later that day, saying he is "aware of the action taken by the Andover Firefighters Union Local 1658 and looks forward to working with its leadership in a collaborative effort to address the issues."

He continued, writing that in his past 13 years as chief "we have been able to implement many initiatives that have been recognized by many in the fire service as best practices and have brought the organization into the 21st century."

"I have a great deal of respect for the the men and women of Andover Fire Rescue and together we will continue to provide exceptional fire and EMS service to the citizenry of the community,'' Mansfield said in the statement. "The safety of our residents has been and will continue to be at the core of everything we do," 

The Andover Firefighters Union, local 1658, is comprised of four deputy chiefs, 13 lieutenants and 52 firefighters, according to the letter.

Union members attending an October meeting voted unanimously on the “no confidence” motion, according to the letter.

The letter says firefighters “have endured a hostile work environment for years that produces poor morale and a staff that is not empowered or valued by upper management. Several factors contributing to the Andover firefighters no confidence in Chief Mansfield are: lack of communication, lack of respect for employees and their concerns, safety issues, consistent bargaining agreement violations, and a lack of committees.”

“Our position is full of challenges, stressful situations and loss. Andover firefighters work diligently to prepare themselves for these dynamic working conditions in and out of the firehouse and in turn deserve and expect a healthy, safe, and positive work environment,” the letter states.

Flanagan confirmed he “received the union’s letter and I am in the process of reviewing the basis for the vote of no confidence in Chief Mansfield.”

Flanagan issued this statement after the letter became public: “Maintaining positive labor relations is a priority for the organization and I look forward to speaking with the chief and the union about opportunities to bridge any gaps and resolve any outstanding issues or concerns.

“During my tenure as town manager, I have watched Chief Mansfield be a tireless advocate for the firefighters, the department and for the public safety needs of the community,'' Flanagan's statement reads. "Chief Mansfield will continue in his role with my full support.

“I have respect for both parties, and I think we can all agree that we will be a more productive organization when we are working together,'' the statement said. "Our work will continue to focus on the needs and best interest of the community.

“We are fortunate, as a community, to have a talented, well-resourced and capable Fire Department that will continue to provide exceptional service to the people who live and work in Andover,” the statement said.

In the letter, the firefighters union listed numerous issues which they said reflect poor management. The issues include:

Receipt of a $1.2 million oversized ladder truck that didn’t clear some town bridges. “This was an important safety oversight due the number of railroad bridges in Andover that have low clearance. ... This critical problem was not only embarrassing but also unsafe for our members,” the union wrote. Firefighters are using a 20-year-old spare truck with minimal tools, no radios and a broken water tank while the issues with the new truck are being rectified, according to the union.

Contract violations that end up in litigation. Mansfield, union members wrote, continually sidesteps collective bargaining. “Often times these violations directly affect a person’s morale, paycheck and livelihood,” the union wrote.

Safety issues, the most critical of which is understaffing of Ladder 1, including during the Sept. 13, 2018, Merrimack Valley gas disaster. “The lack of cooperation of prioritizing staffing concerns allowed for a staffing model that utilized a single firefighter for responding to multiple structure fires and natural gas explosions during a 10-hour operational period at the largest natural gas incident in the United States,” the union wrote.

The lack of assurance that new firefighters will be trained “to the same professional level as our tenured members.”

Communication problems. The union said a department-wide meeting has not been held for a decade.

Poor morale that is getting worse. “The department cannot move forward with this dismissive leadership,” the union wrote.

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