Rescue Boat Allegedly Used for “Hanging Out”

Ossipee — July 2, 2008Though a string of complaints from local residents have alleged misuse of the Center Ossipee Fire Department’s rescue boat on Ossipee Lake earlier this month, a lack of evidence presented to Fire Chief Mike Brownell has convinced him not to take action against the two firefighters involved.

On the afternoon of June 7, Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Fogarty granted two firefighters – one experienced and one newly licensed – permission to take the rescue boat out on Ossipee Lake for a routine training session. According to Brownell, who was informed of the training around 4 p.m. that day and did not object, the boat stayed out on the water for a session that lasted about three hours.

However, several local residents assert that the boat was used for leisure, not training, that day, wasting taxpayer dollars. One witness was Jessica Eldridge of Effingham, who was out on Ossipee Lake that day with her husband, Tim, their children, a cousin, and her mother, a Center Ossipee resident.

“We left our dock around 4 and got to Long Sands probably around 4:30,” she said in a phone interview Monday.

Once there, the group spotted the rescue boat and found it strange that it was moored and “hanging out” with another gray boat at the beach. Both Eldridge and her husband are former Center Ossipee firefighters who worked for six years under former Fire Chief Roland Stockbridge.

Eldridge said the rescue boat, with a man and woman on board, then left and came back 15 minutes later. The Eldridges later spotted the boat on Broad Bay with a third person, a male, on board.

“I’ve been on that fire department, and I know what training looks like,” she said, adding that training sessions typically take place on Thursdays, not Saturdays.

“This did not look like training to me…They were out there waving and having a good time.”

“They stayed on the boat the whole time,” she added.

“The boat was out there “at least two and a half hours, and I didn’t see any training,” continued Eldridge. “You don’t train on a 100 degree day when there’s a ton of people out watching.”

Family members snapped photos, which were then passed on to Fire Commissioner Robert Freeman as evidence. The Eldridges have not contacted Brownell, expressing a desire to go higher up in the chain of command with the complaint.

“It upsets my mother. She can’t pay her taxes on the lake… we were all upset about it,” she said. “It’s taxpayers’ money, you know?”

Fogarty and Brownell were first confronted with the allegations of firefighter misconduct on the boat at a June 17 Center Ossipee Fire Precinct meeting when Freeman related the Eldridges’ complaints and his concern that taxpayers were subsidizing a leisurely day at the beach for the two firefighters involved.

“If you’re training, you’re not sitting over at Long Sands Beach,” said Freeman, who contacted Fire Commissioner Michael Eldridge, but not Brownell, after receiving the complaint. The third member of the precinct’s commission, Jim Dolan, also didn’t know about the situation.

“If we’re working together as a team, we should be communicating,” he said. “Let’s communicate the thing to the people who can take care of it.”

Precinct resident Art Hedberg added that the communication lapse extended to the public.

“I have no way of knowing how to get in touch with anybody from your bulletin board,” he said, suggesting that contact information for the commissioners and administrators be made readily available to the public. Additionally, precinct resident Bill Grover received a call about the boat from a concerned citizen.

“What did it cost us as taxpayers, for the fuel, for the boat?” he asked. “I think we deserve to know what that costs us.” Neither the commissioners nor Brownell were able to determine the answer. Brownell was frustrated that the complaints were reported to him nearly two weeks after the incident. He said he had not seen any evidence of improper conduct.

“They assisted a boat that needed a plug because it was sinking… I think it’s the first time it’s been out there this year.”

Former fire commissioner Belinda Cullen added that she too had received a call, hers from a Gretchen Road summer resident alleging that the firefighters were sunbathing and the boat was out “all day.”

Brownell later refuted this caller’s claim in a June 20 phone interview.

“I don’t believe the boat was out there all day, otherwise we’d have to put a full 10 gallons back in the boat.”

Cullen referred the caller to the fire chief.

“I didn’t have the answer, so I passed it on,” she said.

However, as of Monday morning, June 30, Brownell had not heard from any witnesses nor Freeman, or seen the photographic evidence, though he has interviewed the two firefighters involved and found that their stories were “very consistent with one another.”

He also spoke with a local fisherman who didn’t see anything that that person would consider to be improper use of rescue equipment” while he was in the area for 15 to 20 minutes that day.

“At this time, I’ve determined that there hasn’t been any misconduct,” said Brownell.

The Center Ossipee Fire Precinct meets every first and third Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the fire department at 16 Folsom Road in Center Ossipee.

6 Comments

  1. Dianne Quimby 13 years ago July 2, 2008

    I am writing in response to the comments about the fire boat.
    I live on Broad Bay and I also observed the fireboat as it assisted a woman, with a child on the boat, get back to the dock safely. They stayed with her until she was tied up at the dock and people were there helping her get the child off the boat as the boat was taking on water.

    These two people conducted themselves in a very professional manner in assisting this woman in the sinking boat. Good that they were out there that day as the sinking boat was a very dangerous situation.

    It concerns me that “Monday morning quarterbacks” are saying negative remarks about people who, by all appearances, were out to help, and most likely unpaid volunteers.

    There are emergencies out on the lake. If you take the fire boat out and have never been on the lake you may just add more danger to the situation than help. I would like to see all members of the department take a turn on the lake this summer. They would become familiar with our lake, so if needed they would know where to go and how to get there.

    I was very disappointed by the tone of the people complaining. They did not seem to have a good grasp of what training on a lake would entail. And Tuesday nights would not be the best time to go onto the lake. Part of this is good “PR”. See and be seen.

    The Eldridges might check how firefighters are trained with the fire boats on “Winni” The Big Lake!

    So a big thank you to the firefighters that took a day to make their presence known on Ossipee Lake.
    Dianne Quimby

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  2. David Chandler 13 years ago July 2, 2008

    Referance Rescue Boat hanging out.

    The day in question i saw the Center Ossipee Fire Dept Rescue Boat being used for Public Service.
    I watched as 2 people who i beleive were Fire Dept Personal assist a lady & her young child in a boat that was taking on water. Both people were very professional and saved a lady & young child from possible harm or worse.

    If the Fire Dept. boat was not in the area that day in question who knows what might of happened to both in the sinking boat.
    After the Fire Dept. made sure both parties were back to their dock safe and sound they left back out onto the lake.

    It was nice to see PUBLIC Servants assisting the public in need. And i bet the 2 people were not being paid either.

    Sounds like SOUR GRAPES by former members of the dept. to me.

    I was very happy to see the Fire Dept. Rescue Boat on the lake that day and the Center Ossipee Fire Dept should be proud of the work they do.

    A tip of the LEATHER NEW YORKER Helmet to the members of the Center Ossipee Fire Dept. and dont left a few Sour Grapes keep you from seving the Public.

    P.S. I do not know any body on the Center Ossipee Fire Dept. nor do i know the lady and young child in the sinking boat.

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  3. Don Macleod 13 years ago July 3, 2008

    Boring … Where’s the news worthy drunken debauchery with topless bow bunnies? Seems more like the FD might need some remedial instructions on how to truely misbehave.

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  4. Miguel Diocuore 13 years ago July 3, 2008

    I strongly support our fire and police departments and all those who risk their lives for the public. Having an unproven allegation regarding the fire department hit the newspaper is not what I want to see. I would rather have any complaint investigated by the town first.

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  5. Gerry 13 years ago July 3, 2008

    Thank you to all Firefighters we love you and hope to see you on the lake…

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  6. Christopher Ciarfella 13 years ago July 4, 2008

    This sounds like a witch hunt to me!
    Have we not evolved beyond the days of the Salem witch trials.
    It seems that some folks are getting a good cardio work out jumping to conclusions and running their mouths!
    These folks out on that rescue boat are our brave saviors! Who will be up and out of bed in an instant to save your loved one in the middle of the night? The men and women of the fire rescue that’s who!
    I would hope that our rescue workers run that lake often and know every nook and cranny of it.
    People in trouble in the water only have minutes, and rescue workers only have minutes to find them!
    Oh we are so sorry about your loved one, we ended up in the wrong bay. “If we had only known the lake better.”
    What price would you put on you loved ones life?
    The cost of boat fuel and training hours?
    Please…..lets put things in perspective shall we.

    REPLY

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