Ossipee – July 28, 2008 – Two Ossipee Lake residents have come forward as witnesses to a rescue in Broad Bay on June 7 amid allegations of firefighter misconduct on the Center Ossipee Fire Department’s rescue boat that day.
On June 30, Effingham resident and former Center Ossipee firefighter Jessica Eldridge recounted in a phone interview how she and her family had witnessed two firefighters, a male and a female, moored and “hanging out” with a gray boat at Long Sands Beach during what should have been a training session. They later spotted the boat in Broad Bay with a third passenger, a male, and photographed the firefighters waving.
Concerned that this was wasting taxpayer dollars and resources, Eldridge reported the incident to Fire Commissioner Robert Freeman that weekend and showed him the photos. At the Center Ossipee precinct’s June 17 meeting, two attendees claimed they too had received calls alleging that firefighters had used the boat for a joyride; the identities of those callers have not been made public.
But Broad Bay resident Dianne Quimby, who has lived on the bay at least part-time since 1956 and now resides there year-round, saw a very different scene that afternoon – she saw two firefighters, a man and a woman, help a woman and her young child to safety.
“I saw a boat limping into our cove, and I saw the rescue boat right behind it,” she said in a phone interview on July 18. “They followed her right to the dock to make sure she got there safely… They made sure that she and the child were OK.”
Quimby and her boyfriend, David Chandler, ran to the dock to assist the woman as well. “She lost the plug in the boat…it was a very dangerous situation, especially with a young child,” she said, adding that the child appeared to be “under 7.” Her son, who works for Medstar, also rushed to the dock to help.
After allegations of firefighter misconduct on the boat arose in the June 26 issue of the Carroll County Independent, Quimby and Chandler posted their side of story on the Ossipee Lake Alliance website (www.ossipeelake.org) on July 2.
“We know what we observed,” she said. Quimby said it was particularly important to her speak out because of two past incidents in which Center Ossipee Rescue had provided quick and effective response for her family.
“I don’t belong to the fire department, just lucky enough to have had wonderful response from them at other times,” she said, calling the allegations a shame, especially since these people were probably volunteers and not getting paid.” (According to Fire Chief Mike Brownell, the firefighters in question indeed did bill for the training.)
“Rescues have to happen on a lake,” she stressed. And training is a big part of that process, Quimby added: earlier this week, her son went out on the lake to be familiar with his surroundings in case he had to respond with Medstar.
“What they were doing was perfectly justified and what they should be doing,” she said. “I actually, truly, was quite pleased to see the boat,” said Quimby. “I hadn’t seen it before…and they were very professional, I felt, with this woman. I would’ve been very upset if my boat was leaking, but she was fine because she knew someone was behind her…. I couldn’t have been happier. I have no beef with the fire department whatsoever.”
In his online statement, Chandler agreed: “I was very happy to see the fire department rescue boat on the lake that day, and the Center Ossipee Fire Department should be proud of the work they do.”
However, Eldridge stands by her story. On July 13, she provided a written statement to the Ossipee Board of Selectman, as requested by Selectman Kathleen Maloney.
“As some of my family began getting off our boat to swim because the temperature was high, both myself and my mother remained on the boat and watched in amazement of what we were seeing,” she wrote. “This boat was parked aside a gray boat, and from our view the occupants never left the fire boat…I watched as the boats left – they appeared to be joyriding on the lake.”
Eldridge also submitted the letter, with two photos, to Brownell, who said he received them shortly before the precinct’s meeting on July 15. He had also received phone message from Quimby and read the comments on the Ossipee Lake Alliance website.
Brownell said the alleged incident would be looked at like any other personnel issue in “a non-public session between the commissioners, the fire chief, and the firefighters being accused of wrongdoing.” He has already interviewed the two firefighters who were given permission to train that day, but added that a third firefighter may be involved. “They have the right to be present and have a say,” said Brownell. The firefighters were not available that day, and no further action was taken.
“This matter is tabled until the chief comes to us,” said Fire Commissioner Jim Dolan. While the events of June 7 remain unclear, critics of the Center Ossipee Fire Department say whether or not the firefighters made a rescue that day is not the point. They say the way the situation was handled – and the subsequent breakdown in communication – is the real issue.
“The firefighters aren’t really my problem,” said precinct resident Art Hedberg. “My problem is the inefficiency in the administration.”
Hedberg later expounded in a written statement: “I am focused on saving taxpayers’ money – ultimately, one fire district rather than three, run by a competent chief operating under applicable RSAs, with good communications between commissioners, and fire chief that knows his responsibilities to the taxpayers via the fire commissioners, with a building(s) with hours open and posted and unlocked doors to public meetings.”
The Center Ossipee fire commissioners meet every first and third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the fire department building at 16 Folsom Road.