The union representing Biddeford firefighters has taken a unanimous vote of no confidence in Chief Scott Gagne and has asked city officials to replace him.

In a lengthy letter to the Biddeford City Council and city manager, the Biddeford Career Firefighters Local 3107 said the department is “in crisis” and in need of an immediate change in leadership. Gagne has led the department for three years.

“The union has been diligently working to address this crisis through the chain of command, the labor management process and, finally, in negotiations,” the letter said. “Sadly, all of our attempts to resolve the issues have fallen on seemingly deaf ears. We have no choice but to act, as the lives of every fire department employee and every citizen are at risk.”

The city and union are currently in contract negotiations.

Gagne referred all questions to City Manager James Bennett. In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Bennett said the union had not previously raised concerns with him about the chief’s job performance.

“The fact that the union directed its statement to the City Council meeting to make their point, when they know that the mayor and City Council have virtually no authority over the fire chief, should not be overlooked by the casual observer,” Bennett said in the statement. “A vote of no confidence is usually caused by one of two issues: legitimate concerns about the leadership or as a tactic by a union during difficult labor negotiations. As is often the case in the latter scenario, the leader (in this case Biddeford’s fire chief) is used by the union as a disposable pawn in order to seek leverage in the negotiations process.”

The union cited poor management, lack of leadership, lack of integrity and trust, financial decisions, and lack of training as some of the reasons for the no-confidence vote. The union includes both officers and rank-and-file firefighters. It was not clear Wednesday how many people belong to the union or how many members voted.

Since Gagne became chief, the department has experienced a 60 percent turnover rate, which the union says is “costly and dangerous to our city.” Many of those employees have left for better working conditions in other departments, according to the letter.

The union said firefighters are concerned about a lack of training and said Gagne does not allow adequate time for employees to focus on training while on duty.

“We are in a situation now where new employees can’t perform at the level required, which endangers the lives of everyone we are sworn to protect. We fear that it is only a matter of time before tragedy strikes without an aggressive change in our leadership,” the union said.

The union maintains that department policies are “numerous, complex, repetitive, restricting and conflicting.” It also claims Gagne doesn’t take responsibility for department failures and instead blames others.

“We cannot trust in someone who is never at fault, never admits to mistakes and insists poor decisions are always someone else’s,” the union said in the letter.

Bennett said many of the issues raised in the union letter are the subject of ongoing negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement between the city and union. He said “the city is concerned the union has repeatedly resisted proposed common-sense solutions that would improve the city’s ability to deliver life-saving services to the community.”

Bennett also defended the Gagne’s job performance and requested the union “focus more on the safety of the citizens of the community and less on gaining leverage in ongoing contract negotiations.”

“In my time as city manager, I have always seen Chief Scott Gagne advocate to improve the department with a laser focus on providing the very best service to the residents of this community,” Bennett said in his statement. “As a lifelong resident, a taxpayer and a parent to young children within the community, the citizens Chief Gagne serves are often friends and relatives, and their care and safety under his leadership is his top concern.”


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