The Head Correspondent for KOTL caught Northampton Fire Chief Brian Duggan in his office Monday morning, October 24. The chief sat on the opposite side of the reception room at the main fire station; I sat in the chair next to his secretary. This was my opportunity to ask him some questions about his work as an outside consultant for Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI) of Meredith, New Hampshire. Considering everything that had transpired in the blogosphere, the chief was relaxed and amiable. He did, however, shoot me a few barbs and there was some counter-fire from the other side of the room. He broadly hinted that his work for MRI was over, saying, “This was past tense.” He said that he did the work on his personal time, and further stated that he would not reveal his earnings from MRI for the last few years nor make public any information on his billable hours to MRI unless he was ordered to do so by the mayor.
Chief Duggan had just returned from a two-week federal training program run by the Naval Postgraduate Center for Homeland Defense and Security in West Virginia. He told me that being in the program was important for Northampton and for his country, and this would take him out of the city and perhaps, out of the country. Evidently with Mayor Higgins’s approval, he applied for, and was accepted to, a master’s degree program at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. The program is described here: Its objectives include "strategies, plans and programs to prevent terrorist attacks"
I got the sense from talking to Acting Mayor Narkewicz last week that he knew very little about the postgraduate program which had sent Chief Duggan out of the city, and he was essentially playing "catch-up," just like me, talking to the assistant chief, Duane Nichols, and waiting for Duggan to return. The website states that the graduate program "involves a significant commitment on the part of the participants and the agencies to which they are assigned." The 18-month program requires participants to spend two weeks every quarter in its "Eastern Management Development Center" in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and other sites, and calls for 15 hours a week in web-based course work. An academic quarter is three months, and that means the chief will be out of the area a total of 12 weeks over the next year and a half. To me, that time commitment represents a significant burden on his subordinates, as well as on the city of Northampton, which will continue to pay the second highest salary in the city to a part-time fire chief.
As for me, I kind of doubt that we are going to have any terrorist activity in Northampton in the near future that will require a chief who is so highly trained in homeland security strategy. We're just a little Podunk town, and what we really need is a chief who isn't traveling all over the place and working up a resume so he can eventually jump to a much better paying job in Boston or Baghdad. With my final two questions, I verified what I already knew to be true: The department had not initiated any fire drills at Meadowbrook following the big fire in 2009. Yes, they had done some kind of post-fire meeting, the chief said, but it hadn't worked out. When I mentioned the highly carbonized truss-work under the roofs of Meadowbrook, I got a blank look. Ditto for their plans to hold other meetings in neighborhoods outside the water protection district. He had sent everyone outside that district a letter by registered mail, and warned them to get a sprinkler system. It seemed to him that this letter was enough. My concerns seemed trivial.