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Monday, July 25, 2011

Fire chief alarming selectmen

LITCHFIELD – Fire Chief Thomas Schofield is not on speaking terms with the Board of Selectmen, and it could cost him his job.

The tipping point may have been when selectmen learned that one of the Fire Department’s trucks was out of service for nearly a month this year and Schofield kept it a secret, according to minutes from a nonpublic meeting held June 27.

Schofield took the truck out of town for an estimated $20,000 in repairs and returned it to the station without alerting any town officials, according to minutes.

The board is “concerned that (Schofield’s) failure to cooperate is jeopardizing the welfare of the town,” according to July 11 minutes.

The board has also discussed Schofield’s conflicts of interest with his staff, included different training situations where only those employed in his private business, Hook & Ladder Contracting Services, were able to participate.

The training was not offered to all members of the department, according to minutes.

Schofield has been chief for six years in Litchfield. The department has one chief, two full-time firefighters and about 30 firefighters on-call.

Three former firefighters under Schofield declined comment on the chief while another spoke only under the condition of anonymity.

“It’s all favoritism,” the firefighter said. “He has two of his sons at work, and they tend to get work before any of the other people do.”

Phone messages left for Schofield by The Telegraph were not returned.

Selectmen’s Chairman Steve Perry said he was not prepared to make any statements but confirmed that the board is trying to appoint a new chief. Litchfield voters decided at Town Meeting in March that the fire chief would change from an elected job to an appointed position, starting in March 2012.

The discussion about Schofield will continue at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting today at 7 p.m.

The board sent Schofield at least two formal letters, one in April and another in June, that asked him to attend upcoming meetings to talk with selectmen.

The board wanted to know what to look for in the process of appointing a new chief.

Schofield’s only response to the town was an e-mail asking if the meeting he was asked to attend would be public. After Town Administrator Jason Hoch confirmed that it would be, the two sides have not had any further communication.

The board unanimously voted to assume control of the Fire Department’s expenditures and develop a plan to get the information they need from the Fire Department, whether Schofield cooperates or not.

“If we have a department head that is not willing to communicate with the Board of Selectmen, then we have a serious problem,” Selectman George Lambert said, according to July 11 minutes.

Selectman Brent Lemire said he had not seen this situation in “all the years that he has been in town or associated with the Fire Department,” according to meeting minutes.

Lemire also called Schofield’s silence an “utter disregard for the will of the townspeople,” according to minutes.

The situation could get worse, as Lemire added that the board may need to seek legal counsel to communicate with Schofield.

The anonymous firefighter said Schofield has also had squabbles with other firefighters and been scolded by the town before about off-duty use of his chief’s truck, driving it to take his wife out to dinner or using it for his personal business.

“He used to have a pretty good reputation in town, but he’s pretty much trashed that and ruined it for himself,” the firefighter said.

“Somebody like him shouldn’t be allowed to get away with all the things he’s getting away with.

“Nobody knows how bad it is.”

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashua; also check out Cameron Kittle (@Telegraph_CK) on Twitter.