Conflict between CAO and fire chief spills over to town council meeting

MULGRAVE: With tensions finally boiling over, Mulgrave’s fire chief is now considering resigning amid a conflict with the town’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

“I’m making my decision tonight. I’ve got a meeting called with all the members,” fire chief Michael Breen told The Reporter in a phone interview yesterday. “I notice people in the public told me not to resign, but they hurt my wife one too many.”

During the regular council meeting on January 6, approximately a dozen volunteer firefighters sat in support as Breen, the chief of the Mulgrave Volunteer Fire Department, delivered a position update.

Councillors delivered him a letter asking him to resign due to health concerns, but Breen says it’s really because he doesn’t get along with Mulgrave CAO Darlene Berthier-Sampson.

“Yes, I did mention at the meeting that I was getting stressed and had some chest pain, but that was from arguing with her,” Breen said. “I’ve been with the fire department for 41-years fighting fires, and I haven’t been as stressed as I have been from working with her.”

Berthier-Sampson indicated the fire department is a town service, operated from the town’s budget, and insured by town officials, so they require information on what’s going on.

“Communication efforts with Chief Breen have included efforts to curb his practice of executing spends without purchase orders, seeking payments without adequate paperwork and failure to account for the operational and regulatory status of the department.”

Berthier-Sampson highlighted how during the town’s past budget process, financial statements were requested from the fire department which refused their request. She said the building is burning excessive amounts of oil, and during a recent walk through, she discovered expired fire extinguishers and a furnace that hadn’t been cleaned in seven years since installation.

“It’s very apparent there are issues that need to be addressed within the fire department,” she said. “The assets of the fire department belong to the town and people of Mulgrave who deserve answers as to the reliability and readiness of the department and its equipment.”

Breen said he never planned on resigning, but he now is considering it.

“I’m going to make sure to let them know they need to start looking for a new chief,” he said. “Firefighters have said they’re going to quit if I quit – but I’ve told them before I don’t want you to quit because of me.”