Two Selectmen Want Fire Chief’s Rescue Work to Stay Out of Town Vehicles

CHESTER – The board of selectmen is potentially considering a couple of new draft policies for town vehicle use and for canines, an effort prompted by some selectmen’s concerns with fire chief Rich Antoine and his rescue dog in training, Blaze.

Blaze is a gregarious and well trained young yellow Labrador retriever that spends his time in the fire station most days and is always with the chief. He’s working with Antoine, together with New England K-9 Search and Rescue, to learn how to track and find missing people. It’s something that Antoine and Blaze started within the last year, and because of the integration of the dog at times with Antoine’s workplace, the board of selectmen gave their approval to the venture in February.
But then someone in town noticed that during a news broadcast of the search for a missing 5-year-old girl in Gilmanton in September, the Chester Fire First Response truck was on scene. Antoine and Blaze had gone to support the search. Some in town questioned why the truck was in Gilmanton, including a couple of selectmen, who decided that they weren’t comfortable with Chester’s equipment supporting the chief’s and Blaze’s efforts to help those in danger outside of town.
The town did not purchase the response truck in question, however. It was paid for by the Chester Fire Association, though the town maintains it.
Selectmen Joe Castricone and Rich LeBlanc were both clear at the Thursday, Dec. 5 meeting that they did not want to see Chester equipment or vehicles supporting Antoine’s efforts. They consider that something that should be done without Chester Fire’s material support.
LeBlanc said no town equipment should be involved in Antoine’s private work with the dog.
Castricone said the two pursuits, serving as chief and taking part in canine rescue, should be entirely separate. Castricone also said the response vehicle and equipment should be available in town at all times.
Castricone added that as he understood it, the dog was supposed to stay in a cage in the station and not travel with Antoine during responses.
Castricone noted that he didn’t see any reasons for a policy relating to dogs in town, but he was in favor of a vehicle policy, noting that it should indicate that no one but town employees should be in town vehicles because of insurance concerns.
Selectman chair Steph Landau was skeptical of the draft policy presented, noting the tendency for policies directed toward one individual or department to cause more trouble than they’re worth. Landau said it may be unwise to create a “Chester fire department canine response policy,” as it could mean that the town unwittingly and indirectly accepts a dog.
Selectman Jack Cannon was also skeptical of the policy presented and noted that he wasn’t upset to see Chester’s vehicle in Gilmanton.
“I was proud that Chester had some ability to respond to support that type of operation,” said Cannon.
Landau added that Blaze and Antoine may be useful in search and rescue operations in Chester in the future, as they aren’t uncommon in the state.
Selectman Joe Hagan pointed out that the situation in Gilmanton was the result of Antoine’s making a quick decision to help out and thus ended up taking the town’s vehicle. Those kinds of decisions sometimes need to be made with emergency work, he said.
Cannon and Landau both said Antoine should be involved in any further discussions on the matter. Castricone said the board should be clear with Antoine about what he can and can’t do with town vehicles.
Antoine could not be reached for comment on this story.
Ultimately the board decided to push off any new policies, in large part due to Landau’s desire that if a policy is instituted, it should be more general and be applicable to all departments.
Hagan summed up his thoughts by stating that though some selectmen were referring to Antoine’s work as his private pastime, that was not the case. “When we talk about the ‘hobby’ and ‘passion’ of Chief Antoine, he is not scuba diving for pleasure with this. He’s doing potentially life saving, life sustaining activities,” he said. Hagan added that while he was in command in the Navy he had various requests from those under him to take part in activities outside of their official duties, and each had to be determined on an individual basis.
In a related matter, Castricone, citing time constraints, asked for someone else to take over the liaisonship with the fire department. Hagan and LeBlanc agreed to assume co-liaison positions there.

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