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Breaking – Firefighters vote “No Confidence” in Chief

Allege Chief Fenwick Gardiner, Jr. failed to address health and safety issues

North Kingstown – In the first action of its kind in almost 100 years, the North Kingstown firefighters, IAFF (NKFFA) Local 1651, in a 48-2 vote voted “No Confidence” in Fire Chief Fenwick Gardiner, Jr.

The July 22 resolution, communicated internally to Chief Gardiner on July 25, was the result of what the membership, considered “numerous neglected safety concerns.”

Chief Fenwick Gardiner, Jr. leads department members in Newport's St. Patrick's Day Parade 2014 (Photo Tracey C. O'Neill).

Chief Fenwick Gardiner, Jr. leads department members in Newport’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade 2014 (Photo Tracey C. O’Neill).

“We initially chose to keep the vote internal, between the membership and the Chief,” said Raymond Furtado, Union President in an interview. “Due to the recent comments and allegations of Mr. Embury, our Public Safety Director, in the press, we were put in a position to disclose the vote.”

Revealed in a press release dated Monday, the vote and resulting Resolution were affirmed after what was deemed a thorough, deliberative, and investigative departmental process that began in December 2013.   

Whereas, under the supervision of Chief Fenwick Gardiner Jr., the lives and careers of the members of the North Kingstown Fire Department have been severely and negatively impacted by a lack of leadership in difficult times, resulting in exceedingly poor department morale.”  – Resolution dated July 22, 1014

The press release listed safety concerns, not addressed by the Chief, including:

    • Neglecting to acknowledge, accommodate, or respond to requests from the NKFFA Health and Safety Committee and the NKFFA Executive Board to discuss the safety of the members
    • Neglecting to address the safety concerns from Deputy Chiefs, Company Officers, and line firefighters regarding the chronic state of disrepair of a large portion of the apparatus fleet
    • Ordering that certain fire apparatus remain in service despite an awareness of serious deficiencies related to their safe operation
    • Neglecting to initiate or advocate for an evaluation of the current three-platoon structure and its negative effect on alertness, performance, morale, safety, training, operations, and the physical and mental well-being of the firefighters
    • Failure to maintain or publicly advocate for an adequate number of personnel to meet the needs of the Fire Department, resulting in many firefighters being ordered to work on a regular, sometimes dangerously prolonged basis.

Be it Resolved

The Resolution sets forth specific concerns facing the membership including public and firefighter safety.

Addressing the Town’s unilateral implementation of changes to departmental shift, wage and platoon structure in March 2012, the membership resolved that Chief Gardiner, who – “as an employee of the Town of North Kingstown must comply with Town policy including the enforcement of the recent restructuring of the Fire Department,” – took no action to study, evaluate or monitor the negative effects of the three-division structure on the level of safety, training, and internal operations of the department.

It further resolved that the Chief had not evaluated the negative impacts of the changes on the firefighters and staff.

Staffing and hiring shortcomings were also targeted with firefighters putting forth the Chief’s failure to hire, train and recruit the staff necessary to maintain adequate line personnel.

“The department has experienced staffing shortages that have fostered an operational disruption of the rank structure, caused “emergency” adjustments to the hiring and response practices of the fire department, and resulted in inconsistent crew assignments, decreasing the routine necessary cohesiveness of the firefighting and EMS response force,” said the Resolution.

(Photo Tracey C. O'Neill 2014)

(Photo Tracey C. O’Neill 2014)

Apparatus, Fleet in Chronic State of Disrepair

The Resolution also addressed specific apparatus malfunctions communicated to the Chief, where apparatus was ordered to remain in service. Those allegations comprised of failing brakes on engines, water tank leakage and lack of appropriate emergency lighting were deemed serious deficiencies.

“Whereas, Chief Fenwick Gardiner Jr. has by neglected to address safety concerns from Deputy Chiefs, Company Officers and line firefighters regarding the chronic state of disrepair of a large portion of the apparatus fleet.”

The Resolution went on to address potentially unhealthy facilities, specifically at NKFD Station #3 and the Town Fire Maintenance Facility.

Putting forth numerous concerns of requests for action on health and safety concerns, the firefighters’ resolution and vote was the first of its kind in 97 years.

Chief Gardiner could not be reached for comment as of the time of this post.


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