Francis R. Wozniak

Manchester Fire Chief Francis R. Wozniak was arrested in Portland last month on a charge of operating under the influence.

Portland police said a vehicle driven by Wozniak, 38, was observed without its lights on at 11:27 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22.

After the traffic stop, during which field sobriety tests were conducted, Wozniak, who is known as Frank, was placed under arrest on suspicion of drunken driving and charged with OUI.

Town Manager E. Patrick Gilbert declined to comment on the incident, saying it was a personnel matter.

Gilbert said Wozniak was working Thursday and staffing the town’s fire station. Gilbert also said the town would work its way through the process to address the situation.

“There is no change” in staffing at the fire station, Gilbert said Thursday morning.

Asked if Wozniak’s arrest is affecting operation of the Manchester Fire Department, Gilbert said, “We still have fire protection.”

Manchester Fire Chief Frank Wozniak, center, at an accident Aug. 6, 2019, on Route 201 in Hallowell.

Wozniak’s position was made full time at the annual town meeting June 13, 2019.

By a vote of 24-19, residents approved a controversial proposal to make the fire chief’s job a full-time position, with a salary of $37,440.

After his arrest, Wozniak was released on $2,500 unsecured bail, meaning he did not have to pay that amount but he would owe it if he does not show up for his April 9 court appearance.

Portland police said Wozniak had a handgun in his vehicle when stopped by officers, but his possessing the gun did not violate the law.

Wozniak could not be reached for comment on his cellphone Thursday.

Robert Gasper, chairman of the Manchester Board of Selectmen and a captain with the town’s Fire Department, also could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Paula Thomas, vice chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said she was aware of the charges against Wozniak but could not discuss them because they are a personnel matter.

“I can say that the residents of Manchester do not have to be concerned if there is a fire,” she said. “We have an excellent volunteer base and we also have mutual aid agreements in place with other local towns.”

The fire chief’s position in Manchester used to be a volunteer position, but in 2018 it became a paid, part-time, 20-hour-per-week position.

Gilbert said officials at the 2019 town meeting proposed to make the position full time because the number of people volunteering to be firefighters in Maine has been in rapid decline.

Gilbert said the Manchester Fire Department is no different, having about a third of the firefighters it had years ago.

At the town meeting in June, Manchester officials said the Fire Department had about 15 firefighters who are paid for their time at fire scenes.

Wozniak said in a September interview he had been in fire service for 16 years and had held every position within the Manchester Fire Department. He said he has undergone training in basic firefighting but not completed Firefighter I or II training.

In late September 2019, Manchester left the Lakes Region Mutual Aid group, then composed of six towns that automatically responded when a fire broke out in any of the communities.

Manchester had been in the group for 45 years. With Manchester’s departure, the mutual aid group now includes Fayette, Readfield, Wayne, Mount Vernon and Vienna.

The change prompted some residents to express concerns about public safety and to criticize local officials for not working more closely with the other members of the Lakes Region Mutual Aid group to maintain Manchester’s participation.

Town officials at the time said the mutual aid pact was not working anymore due, in part, to some of the towns being relatively far away from Manchester and, in part, due to what Gasper described as personality conflicts between some members of the group.

He said the change could be an improvement to public safety in Manchester.

A town resident at the September meeting said if Wozniak cannot “play nice” with the other fire chiefs in the group, he should not be chief.

In Manchester’s letter to the other member towns of Lakes Region Mutual Aid, Gilbert wrote the community was seeking to strike new, reciprocal agreements for mutual aid responses to fires and other emergencies with five municipalities that share borders with Manchester — Augusta, Hallowell, Readfield, West Gardiner and Winthrop.

Following a fire Feb. 9 on Savages Path, Wozniak declined to take a call seeking information about the fire and requested a reporter call back in two hours, after Wozniak was done cleaning fire equipment.

When the reporter did as asked, Wozniak was not present to take the call and did not return messages left on his cellphone that day or later that week.

On Feb. 19, the Kennebec Journal filed a public records request under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, requesting Gilbert provide the newspaper a copy of the after action report, or AAR, from the fire on Savages Path.

Wozniak emailed a copy of the report Feb. 24. It stated an investigator from the Office of State Fire Marshal had determined the fire was caused by improper disposal of coals or ashes from a wood stove.

The house was later deemed unsafe and torn down.

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