Local News, News, West Bay

Judge orders Coventry Fire District board to meet

[anvplayer video=”676476″ /] COVENTRY, R.I — The firefighters at the Coventry Fire District haven’t been paid in more than a month.

A number of them have continued to work without pay; Friday, just two of the four firefighters scheduled for the day shift showed up. The same happened for Friday’s night shift.

It takes two firefighters to take an emergency vehicle to a call.

“It is kind of scary,” said Kenneth Silvia, who lives within the district’s boundaries. “I know they have other districts, but it’s the response time,” he said, referring to the amount of time another district would take to respond to a call if no firefighters are available in the Coventry Fire District.

The cash-strapped district has had its assets frozen by the Coventry Credit Union, to which it owes about $465,000, according to Board Chair Frank Palin. Friday, Superior Court Judge Brian Stern ordered the board to hold a public meeting Monday to sort out its issues.

The board had been reluctant to schedule a meeting without a police officer in attendance, but also didn’t have the funds to pay the police detail. The judge offered the courthouse security officers and ordered the meeting take place in the jury lounge, according to court spokesperson Craig Berke. The judge subpoenaed board members to ensure a quorum would be in attendance.

Monday’s agenda includes a discussion on layoffs, possibly dissolving the fire district altogether or possibly retaining a private ambulance service for medical calls.

The private ambulance service, strictly speaking, is against the firefighters union contract. But board chairman Frank Palin, who declined to be interviewed on camera for this story, told Eyewitness News the district would be able to hire the ambulance service if all firefighters stopped coming to work.

The fire union’s president disagrees. David Gorman says the union would file an injunction if the board were to hire a private ambulance service, and bring the issue before the state labor board.

Palin insists unless the Coventry Credit Union unfreezes the district’s assets, they won’t be able to pay the firefighters this fiscal year.

If less than two firefighters show up on a given shift, Gorman says the district will have to cease operations. The nearest district, the Central Coventry Fire District, would respond to calls–but that district is struggling with its own financial problems.

The union is neither encouraging nor discouraging firefighters from going to work unpaid.

The board will meet Sunday in executive session to interview candidates for its open board seat. Monday’s judge-ordered meeting will take place at the Kent County Courthouse in Warwick at 9:30 a.m.