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Mass. Chief Criticized over Lingering EMS Report

DUDLEY - Five months after selectmen reversed their decision to sever relations with Fire Chief Jeffrey E. Phelps, he is back in the hot seat, with board criticisms and demands for a report requested seven weeks ago regarding an "EMS incident."

"When the safety and welfare of the people is involved, and it's brought to our attention by the public, and we ask politely, and then we request more strongly; the step we have left is to demand," Chairman Paul M. Joseph said at the board's meeting Monday.

Selectman Steven P. Sullivan raised the complaint about waiting seven weeks for a report from Chief Phelps. The matter involves an emergency call that went unanswered by Dudley EMS.

Selectman Jonathan Ruda said he too was frustrated with the wait.

The chief was not present at the meeting. When asked, Town Administrator Peter M. Jankowski said he had no explanation for the delay.

"I am holding you responsible for not getting that report to us in a timely manner," Mr. Joseph said to Mr. Jankowski. "I expect you to put the heat on wherever the heat belongs so this board has a 2-month-old request answered."

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Jankowski said the incident was a Sept. 13 ambulance call to aid a person with distressed breathing on West Main Street.

"I found out today that the dispatcher was unable to raise a second EMT according to proper protocol and Webster was called. By the time the second EMT responded, Webster was on scene," he said.

Mr. Sullivan heard of it from a resident who asked why Dudley did not respond. The chief was asked to answer the question in a report.

"The issue of Webster providing services to Dudley is not uncommon. That's why we have mutual aid agreements. In my view the concern was it took so long to get this report," Mr. Jankowski said.

In June the board reversed its decision to release Chief Phelps from employment July 1 and voted 3-2 for a new two-year contract.

At the time, Mr. Sullivan, who voted against the contract, gave examples of goals not met by the chief and performance review categories in which he scored unsatisfactory. He also cited two ambulance calls the chief missed when on duty.

Casting the other vote against a contract, Mr. Joseph said he was dissatisfied with the chief's job performance.

Selectman Nancy A. Runkle said she supported his reappointment but recommended the chief resolve a pattern of procrastination.

The chief's new contract calls for performance reviews by the selectmen every six months. The first review is in January. If the chief's overall performance rating is unsatisfactory or needs improvement, he may be terminated.

Chief Phelps has been with the department for 35 years, the last 30 years in command and leadership roles.



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