In what is believed to be an unprecedented action, the Saratoga Springs Professional Fire Fighters Association (International Association of Fire Fighters – Local 343) has recommended to Commissioner of Public Safety James Montagnino the removal and replacement of its Fire Chief following a vote of No Confidence by its entire membership.
The anonymous vote was conducted over a period of several days using a secure digital platform following a period of serious consideration and discussion at a Special Meeting conducted on April 24. A motion assessing the membership’s comfort of critical leadership and command decisions was advanced during the meeting during which all members participated and nearly 90 percent cast votes of “no confidence and removal.”
More specifically, the unusual action stems from fire fighters’ position that Chief Joseph J. Dolan, a former union president, has in recent years repeatedly failed to act in the interest of safety for the membership and community. In fact, the notion of a “No Confidence” vote has been informally discussed since late 2022.
Joseph Brimhall, President of the Saratoga Springs Professional Fire Fighters – and a 20-year veteran of the Department said: “Our members’ concerns are not focused on a single incident – and its determination to take this significant step are based on the totality of decisions and actions that we believe are compromising the safety of our community, those who serve it and our collective confidence in Chief Dolan.”
The members of Local 343 cite the November 2022 mass shooting during which 11 Saratoga Springs fire fighters responded to a chaotic scene where three members of the public suffered gunshot wounds. The responding fire fighters were vulnerable to harm and experienced significant trauma. The chief’s casual actions and concern for the well-being of those under his command eroded a growing lack of confidence in his leadership. Additional factors included:
- A 2021 determination following Chief Dolan’s decision to operate fire apparatus with only three-member crews rather than the four – the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommended standard.
At that time, the issue was advanced through the chain of command and shared with various city commissioners. Prior to this change, the Saratoga Springs Department has maintained four-member minimum crews as its standard for a period of 32 years. That policy that was shaped by the experiences and after-action reports stemming from the Jamesway Department store in 1989.
- In 2019 Chief Dolan proposed an agreement with the Town of Greenfield for Saratoga Springs fire fighters to provide Emergency Medical Support (EMS) to the neighboring town. This contractual measure, provided EMS support and exposed Saratoga Springs residents to unacceptable risk. Ultimately it was rejected by the City Council in the face of significant community opposition.
- An ongoing series of operational measures impacting patient care needs and emergency response capacity also contributed to the ongoing concerns. These included Inter-Facility Transports, during which local residents are transferred from Saratoga Hospital to other regional healthcare facilities, to planning and preparation associated with the Saratoga Race Meeting. In both cases, these policies were in conflict with the essential need for concurrent citywide response during periods of peak demand for emergency services.
Local 343 members are grateful for the support of Assistant Chief Aaron Dyer who for several months has been serving as Acting Chief.
“During the period that Assistant Chief Dyer has been in interim command there has been a change in culture and morale throughout the Saratoga Springs Fire Department,” Brimhall added.