Fire Department Issues Cause Backdraft in Dracut

By: Brian Genest – Oct. 2019

Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, especially in Dracut. Just ask town firefighters. As the result of a number of smoldering issues, members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2586, joined by the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, picketed outside the board of selectmen’s meeting, before bringing the heat inside and torching town officials.

Firefighters sounded the alarm loudly and clearly over what Union President Leo McMahon described as the town’s inappropriate and neglectful actions. Firefighters also fully exercised their First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. And redress grievances they did – a long list of them, including failed contract negotiations, neglected vehicle maintenance and retaliatory actions taken against firefighters.

McMahon said he was put under “house arrest” by Fire Chief David Brouillette after he was wrongly accused of abusing sick time. According to the union president, he was undergoing treatment for job-related cancer at the time. He asked selectmen to step in and rectify what’s been going on in the fire department.

McMahon’s wasn’t the only speaker to blast town management.

“The hostile, toxic work environment that we live in is ridiculous,” firefighter Justin George told selectmen during his gut-wrenching comments about his year-long battle with the fire chief and Town Manager James Duggan. “You ruined who I was and you made my family watch it.”

George was placed on administrative leave in August of 2018 and ordered to undergo a psychiatric exam, after filing a town meeting article about military pay. Subsequently, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined there was reasonable cause to believe the town discriminated against George. In addition, the American Arbitration Association found that Dracut’s actions violated the collective bargaining agreement and ordered the town last month to reinstate George to his position in the fire department.

“In the present case, the Town’s decision to direct Mr. George to have a psychological examination was directly related to Mr. George’s advocacy on the issue of military pay for employees of the Town of Dracut, which is not a legitimate reason to require an employee to submit to a psychological examination as a condition of continued employment,” the AAA ruling reads.

Moreover, the evidence demonstrates that Mr. George was capably performing the duties of the position, and was already receiving treatment for his PTSD from the Veterans Administration.”

If you’re not steaming mad about what’s been going on, you’re not paying attention. The firefighters and taxpayers of Dracut deserve better. As McMahon, George and other speakers pointed out, it’s time for selectmen to step up and snuff out the personal, political and petty nonsense.

“You tried everything possible to silence me and ruin my life and I’m still standing here. I’m louder than ever,” George said directly to Duggan, before turning and pointing to selectmen. “I’m not stopping or leaving until justice is done, by either you or your replacements.”

How will Dracut selectmen answer the call?

Brian Genest is chairman of the Dracut Republican Town Committee and a member of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee representing the Second Essex & Middlesex district of Andover, Dracut, Lawrence and Tewksbury.