Third time was the charm for the Norwood Board of Selectmen in their motion to rescind the so-called "Strong Chief" law, as the Town Meeting members voted to pass the motion at Monday night's continuation of the Special Town Meeting.
After an hour and a half of discussion and voting, the motion carried by a tight vote of 88-79.
The article called for the town to revoke its acceptance of sections 42, 43 and 44 of chapter 48 of Massachusetts General Law, providing for the establishment of a fire department to be under the control of an officer to be known as the Chief of the Fire Department. The acceptance was voted on in 1926. The revocation places the Chief and therefore the department under the Town Manager.
Board of Selectmen chair Michael Lyons said that the Board thought that now would be the best time to make this change, while the department is between chiefs. He said that with "Strong Chief" in place, the fire chief has to not only be an expert in the operations of the department, but in municipal managing and budgeting. The department was out on its own, without the benefit of general oversight by the town.
"This is exactly what is needed," Lyons said.
Andrew Quinn, president of the Norwood Firefighters Local 1631, said that this law has been in effect for 86 years, "for good reason."
"The fire department is a different entity when it comes to town government," he said, and should be under the direction of a professional chief with significant background in firefighting.
While he said that he and all of Norwood's firefighters have "great respect" for those holding public office in town, "We firmly believe that an attack on the strong chief law is an attack on your fire department," Quinn told the members.
Three other members of the Board of Selectmen, Town Manager John Carroll, Town Clerk Robert Thornton, and several other Town Meeting members spoke up in support of the change. Also present at the meeting was the President of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts and Watertown Fire Chief Mario Orangio, who said that the "Strong Chief" law is good for communities.
"This was enacted for a reason," he said.
A motion for the vote to be made by secret ballot was defeated, and the motion to rescind carried on a show of hands votes. Seven members questioned the vote and it was counted by a standing vote.
The Norwood Firefighters Local 1631 posted to Norwood Patch's Facebook page after the vote, saying, "While the Norwood Firefighters disagree with this decision, our dedication to the residents of Norwood is unchanged and we will continue to provide the absolute best service to our town."