At the helm of a department riddled with litigation, the Chief, who direct reports to Michael Embury, Town Manager and Public Safety Director, received the unprecedented news from his members on July 25, 2014.
Perched between his staff and the Town administration, Gardiner, whose father served before him, spoke of the sometimes arduous task of balancing the needs of his department and staff with those of the administration.
“I have a lot of good firefighters and a lot of them go over and above. I’m blessed to have them,” said Gardiner. “They help me run the department. I can’t do it on my own.”
The no confidence vote from his firefighters lent more discord to the already volatile issues between Union and administration.
“It’s unfortunate,” Gardiner said. “It takes another level of aloneness. It’s difficult. Morale is low.”
Resolute in maintaining protocol
Union members presented Gardiner with the results of the 48-2, no confidence vote and supporting resolution on July 25. Claims of unhealthy work environment, unsafe fire apparatus and lack of initiative in determining the adverse effects of the 3-platoon structure were among the issues set forth.
The firefighters alleged that the Chief was not only aware of unsafe apparatus in service, but supported the use of the same.
“Whereas, Chief Fenwick Gardiner Jr. has ordered apparatus to remain in service despite the fact that he was aware of serious deficiencies including but not limited to failing brakes, lack of appropriate emergency lighting, and a leak in the tank that carries water used for firefighting on the Town’s busiest engine.” ~ NKFFA Resolution, July 22, 2014
Gardiner, too, was resolute when asked about the apparatus and allegations.
“No. I did not order anyone to do such a thing,” he said.
Gardiner went on to explain the protocol when such concerns are brought to light.
“I’m not sure who the mechanic was who made the determination,” he said. “We have 2 mechanics who are DOT (Department of Transportation) certified inspectors. Any [report] usually goes to the Deputy Chief first. The truck is immediately taken off the road and is taken to the mechanic. They make the assessment and the repairs. They (staff) are put on another piece of apparatus.”
As for allegations of unhealthy work environment, Gardiner said he was not alone in addressing the issues.
“From at least 2 chiefs before me, we had dealt with similar measures and allegations,” he said. “The public works department gets the work orders. These issues are sent through to the proper departments. The requests are made through the proper channels. They certainly aren’t sitting around on my desk.”
Litigation situation remains
Sworn in as Chief a year before the Town implemented unilateral changes to shift, wage and platoon structure, outside the scope of collective bargaining, Gardiner who maintains a non-union position spoke briefly of the on-going litigation.
“We have a contractual situation that remains,” he said. “There isn’t anyone – I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to see this continue any longer.”
When asked how he would continue to serve the department under the current morale situation, Gardiner said, “Again, I have a lot of good firefighters. I have to continue to try and get the things that are needed for the department.”
When asked about the department’s ability to recruit, train and hire new firefighters, the chief was all business.
“The combining of a training academy with 5 other cities and towns? That was a cost-saving measure. That was good business,” he said. “These kids are on other lists. Sadly, there are other departments that have other shifts and other pay scales. That’s been the circumstance for a number of years. Yes. We lost a recruit. That’s not anything new. It’s just another thing to add to the pile.”