Mayor Carolyn Kirk has removed Acting Fire Chief Steven Aiello from his command this morning following an investigation into the department honor guard's conduct at last week's Memorial Day ceremonies last week, when Aiello and other firefighters allegedly turned their backs on the mayor in a perceived protest.
Kirk, who said she met with Aiello this morning, has appointed Robert DiPoli of Medfield as the new acting chief to run the department between now and June 30 — the end of the fiscal year and the last day before new permanent chief Eric Smith, now a deputy chief in Westland, Mich., is due to take the reins as Gloucester's chief pending City Council confirmation.
DiPoli is a retired Needham fire chief, and was identified and hired through the New Hampshire-based Municipal Resources Inc., which served as the city consultant in its fire chief search, and also on a department audit and two "after-action" fire reviews.
Kirk, saying she was taking the action under terms included in the contract he signed when appointed acting chief, said she removed Aiello from his post for "conduct unbecoming" and a failure to effectively lead and command the department's Honor Guard at the Memorial Day ceremonies at Kent Circle, based on an investigation into the Memorial day incidents that began last Wednesday based on what the mayor has called "citizen complaints."
Kirk said the firefighters' action "shows a leadership issue, and dishonored the occasion."
"We had no choice but to bring in a new acting chief," the mayor said.
Kirk's action immediately returned Aiello to his previous role as deputy chief, with his pay cut accordingly. He had been working to an annual rate of $104,000 since being appointed as acting chief at the end of February.
Kirk said that she, Personnel Director David Bain, City Solicitor Suzanne Egan, and Chief Administrative Officer James Duggan began the investigation last Tuesday, and that the probe was based on reviewing a number of photos along with the Cape Ann TV telecast of the ceremony. The photos showed the honor guard — which stood behind the World War II Memorial, out of the mayor's line of sight, but in view of spectators and other participants — standing at attention just as the mayor began her welcoming remarks, but then with their backs turned to Kirk both during her speech and later as she laid the memorial wreath.
Kirk said this morning that more disciplinary action may be pending against other firefighters involved in the alleged protest — which firefighters have denied. But the remaining interviews and any subsequent investigation into the incident will be carried out by new Acting Chief DiPoli. DiPoli has arrived at Central Station and is on duty today.
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Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.