Mayor Carolyn Kirk's office is investigating what the mayor says have been citizen complaints about potential misconduct on the part of a Fire Department honor guard under the command of Acting Fire Chief Steven Aiello during the city's Memorial Day ceremonies last Monday.
The 10 or so firefighters that made up the Memorial Day honor guard, according to photos sent to the Times, turned their backs to the mayor for at least part of her address during the city's ceremonies at Kent Circle. The firefighters stood behind the World War II Memorial during the ceremonies.
Kirk confirmed Friday that the city had begun its investigation after receiving complaints about the firefighters' action from residents who attended the ceremony, noting that the investigation involved "possible misconduct." The mayor declined further comment on this story; Kirk reportedly did not observe the firefighters' action.
Both Aiello and firefighters union president Phil Bouchie, who were in the Honor Guard that day, said the turning around wasn't part of any organized, per-meditated action.
The honor guard, Bouchie said, wasn't disruptive or disorderly. The incident, he said, was a spontaneous thing that had nothing to do with Memorial Day, or with the union.
"It just happened," Bouchie said, "and is being blown out of proportion."
Bouchie did not comment further.
While firefighters who marched in the Memorial Day parade did turn away from Mayor Carolyn Kirk as she spoke, Acting Chief Aiello said they didn't do it for her entire address — or in any kind of protest
The firefighters, he said, aren't part of the official ceremony and were milling about behind the monument.
Firefighters both faced, and had their backs to, all of the speakers, Aiello said. The honor guard, he said, posed for photographs as a unit during the ceremonies, and members were turning in and out of the sun, he said.
The incident follows a letter the firefighters union sent to the City Council, stating members disapproved of Kirk's choice of Eric Smith, a deputy fire chief in Westland, Mich., as the city's new fire chief.
The union sent the letter on May 23. Kirk chose Smith to head the Fire Department over fellow finalists Aiello and Falmouth Deputy Fire Chief Glen Rogers.
The letter states the union will work cooperatively and diligently with Smith, but saw no reason for Kirk to select an out-of-town candidate over Aiello.
"We see no valid reason for Mayor Kirk to select a candidate from out of town except that perhaps she feels that because Eric Smith comes from 'over the bridge,' he will bring change and ideas," the letter states.
Aiello — who, a day after Kirk announced her selection of Smith as the city's new permanent chief, sent a memo to his department urging them to "welcome" and "work with" the new chief — said that nothing that happened during the Memorial Day ceremonies had anything to do with the Kirk's choice of a new chief from outside the department.
"There was absolutely, positively, no planned snub of the mayor because of her choice of fire chief," Aiello said. "That's total hogwash."
Aiello said that, as acting chief, he would not have allowed a protest during Gloucester's Memorial Day observance.
The Memorial Day event echoes a September 2006 boycott of the city's official Sept. 11 observance by members of the Fire Department, including another current deputy chief, Miles Schlichte. In that case, four firefighters left their post at Central Station and took a pump to an unofficial observance led by Schlicte. That protest observance was carried out at the same time then-Mayor John Bell and former Fire Chief Barry McKay held the city's official remembrance at Central Station.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.