Jun 192014

Deputy Fire Chief Clarence JeffersonDeb Jefferson

Deputy Fire Chief Clarence Jefferson

July first, there’s going to be a gap in Deputy Fire Chief Clarence Jefferson’s world. For the first time in 33 years, when a 911 call comes in and a dispatcher sounds the piercing alert “tone” over the radio to tell firefighters that someone in Groton needs help … he won’t be replying with “F2 responding” to let people know he’s on the way.

Jefferson is one of a small group of firefighters whose employment assignments were terminated by the town this month. Jefferson and firefighters Ben Miele and Steve Tervo were informed by Fire Chief Joe Bosselait and Town Manager Mark Haddad that they would not be “reappointed” as department members. “Reappointment” as employees is an annual ritual for most town employees, but fire department personnel had always been exempt from being listed by the town manager and approved by the board of selectmen. All three are on duty through June 30, the same day that Bosselait is retiring his golden chief’s badge.

No reason has been given to the employees for their termination, which became public ten days ago. Jefferson was informed in a meeting with town administrators.

“I was at a meeting with Mr. Haddad, Josh Degen, the fire chief, the human resources director, and Mr. Haddad — I can’t speak on the investigation itself — but Mr. Haddad made comments concerning the investigation (See Fire Department Harassment Claims “Unsubstantiated,” Town Says) and Mr. Degen informed me that they thought the new fire chief should be able to pick his own command staff and they appreciated my 32 years of service to the town but that it was time to retire,” Jefferson said. Jefferson submitted a letter announcing his retirement, as requested.

He has since asked the town’s human resources director for details on why he was not reappointed. She referred him, via email, to Bosselait, who said that Haddad needed to reply. He hasn’t, Jefferson said. No town officials would comment to The Groton Line because it is a personnel matter.

Miele and Tervo got the news without any personal contact, in an email. Other employees may still be missing from this year’s fire department “reappointed” list, but no additional names have surfaced in firefighter circles.

Jefferson grew up in Ayer, always knowing he’d be a firefighter.

“It runs in my family. My grandfather was on the Board of Fire Engineers in Ayer, and I had a number of uncles and cousins who were on the fire department in Ayer, and had an uncle who was on the fire department at Fort Devens. So it was one of those things that you grow up with. All my uncles talked about, while I was growing up, was fires. And my cousins too. It was obvious I was going to become a firefighter, so I went and joined Ayer, and was there six or seven years before moving up here,” he said in an exclusive interview.

Jefferson rose to be a Lieutenant and earned emergency medical technician rating in Ayer. After three years off to get married and established in Groton, he joined the Groton Fire Department as a firefighter. He rose through the ranks as a Lieutenant, Captain, and then Deputy Chief the last 19 years. He added a little luster to his Deputy Chief rank when he earned “Credentialed Massachusetts Fire Chief” status from the Massachusetts Fire Service Commission this spring. He has worked for three chief in Groton: Jimmy Connolly, Chris Kelley, and Joe Bosselait.

Jefferson allowed that the last year and a half has been challenging, in part because of changes in the way the department operated after its full-time firefighting staff formed a union, Local 4879 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The biggest chain for him was that suddenly the full time staff had a special status, outside the normal department chain of command. He was the deputy chief and he was also a call firefighter.

“On fire scenes, everyone responds to the person in charge, whether that happens to be the chief or myself. But if I had any directions for the full times, regardless of rank, if I had an issue or situation, I was to go directly to the chief and not address it myself. After the union came in,” he said.

That administrative decision removed him from many decisions involving department training, day-to-day procedures, and equipment maintenance, all areas in which he had been deeply involved. That type of change rippled through the department, creating some friction between the full time and call staffs.

“When this was a fully call department, the call members would do all the work — all the maintenance, they would do everything that needed to be done in the stations. When the full timers came on, part of their responsibilities was to do the majority of the maintenance that the call people were doing. And I believe that cause a little friction between the full timers and the call people. The call people, some of them, were of the opinion that they weren’t being included in the process if any decision, any changes were done to apparatus, any equipment being moved … they weren’t really being instructed on where it was, or how to use it, and therefore they felt like second class citizens,” Jefferson said.

That feeling of being second class citizens may be the reason that call firefighters are considering forming their own union. Two meetings have been held, one with Paul Stuart, an organizer for Teamsters Local 170, which represents call, and some full time, firefighters in other towns. The second meeting ended without a decision being made about unionization.

But several members of the Groton Fire Department signed Teamsters union cards, including Jefferson, Miele, and Tervo. Was that related to the three firefighter’s dismissals?

“It’s a possibility,” Jefferson said. “I signed a union card. I would hope that’s not the reason, but until I hear something from the Town of Groton, I don’t know.

“Because we’re between chiefs, everyone is anxious. Everyone is anxious about the unknown. I certainly hope he comes in and is a chief who works well with everyone and we can get back to where we should be — one unified department.

“As far as signing the union card, I’m not pro-union. But I did sign the union card for fear that what is happening now was on the horizon and was going to happen. Don’t ask my why, because I can’t tell you, why I thought this was going to happen, just intuition — and the other two gentlemen who are no longer on the department, Steve Tervo and Ben Miele, felt the same way. And in my opinion, neither of them have done anything wrong. It was just an inkling We didn’t have any representation should something come along, something like this. I just had an inkling that something was going to happen. I guess maybe because I’ve been around long enough … I use the old saying “This is not my first rodeo,” That was the reason I signed the union card. Just to have someone who could say ‘You can’t do that’ or ‘Why are you doing that?'” Jefferson said.

“I’ve had a lot of people come here or call, wishing me well, wanting to know what’s going on, and I wish them and the town well, and that the fire department will do what it’s supposed to do. I think under new leadership it may even get better,” he said. But F2 will be on the outside looking in, instead of responding to the alarm.