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fire chief

August 10, 2010 - 5:38pm

New City of Batavia fire chief Jim Maxwell is a wily veteran of Rochester-area fire departments. All in all, Maxwell has logged over 80 combined years, volunteer and paid, with the North Greece, Lakeshore and Kodak fire departments.

mug_james_maxwell.jpgIn a phone interview today, Maxwell said experiences during his 23 years at Kodak -- 10 of them as a as a haz-mat resource technician -- were especially educational.

"I think nowadays, you need to be prepared for any type of situation," says Maxwell. "I think the experience I've had with my 20-plus years with Kodak...has prepared me for this type of situation. Really, any type of structural fire you go to is a minor haz-mat situation, with the products of combustion that burn nowadays."

The Kodak department, however, did not strictly deal with chemicals. Maxwell says the Kodak complex was like a small city of its own in its heyday -- with all the emergency nuances of a city as well.

"You were looking at a daytime population of 20,000, with over 250 major buildings," he says. "We were 120 members strong...we operated out of three fire stations, and ran about 3,600 calls a year."

During his career, Maxwell has also served as a senior firefighter/EMT, lieutenant, battalion chief, deputy chief and assistant chief. But he has only one year's experience as chief of a department: 2006, with North Greece. Maxwell doesn't expect that to hamper him in Batavia.

"I feel with that background -- and other supervisory positions I've had throughout my career -- I'm prepared for the challenge."

At last night's Batavia City Council meeting, the council voted to give Maxwell a one-year exemption on the residency requirement, which mandates that the city fire chief live within the Genesee County lines.

Maxwell says with a year to go, moving isn't yet his top priority. He plans to first sit down with Fire Captain and former Acting Chief Craig Williams next week to find out about normal station operations. Then he'll set up a formal meeting with the entire station, and research the strategic five-year and 10-year plans for the fire department.

All that while still commuting from Greece. Maxwell says once he's comfortable in the new role, then he'll think about moving.

"It's close to home, living in Monroe County," notes Maxwell. "So with family close by, it makes that commute a lot easier than traveling to different areas of the country."

Commuter or not, Maxwell brings a level of stability -- finally -- to a department that's seen five chiefs in less than five years.

"I'm excited about the opportunity," he says, "and looking forward to working with the dedicated individuals in the organization...and moving forward in the right direction."

June 12, 2009 - 12:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, fire chief.

We've covered the resignation of Chief Tom Dillon pretty thoroughly, but just to put an exclamation point on the explanations given by Jason Molino and Karen Marchese on the reason for the 211 waiver denial, we draw your attention to this story from the Buffalo News.

A new attitude in the governor’s office toward double dipping is likely to cost former Niagara County Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein—the current head of the State Commission on Corrections — about $110,000.

Five months after Beilein was named head of the state panel, the commission requested that he be allowed to collect his full $101,600 state salary as well as his full $66,148 annual pension — retroactive to the day he got the job in mid- August.

But four months later, before the waiver request was acted upon, and with the governor’s office discouraging double dipping among top-level employees, the request was withdrawn.

“It was withdrawn when it was clear it would not be granted,” commission spokesman John M. Caher said.

Beilein will likely be required to pay back some of his pension.

June 2, 2009 - 7:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, fire chief.

City Manager Jason Molino submitted two letters detailing the hiring process that led to the appointment of Tom Dillon as interim fire chief last year, as well as how Dillon would be replaced, but the NYS Civil Service Commission still denied the city's request for a 211 waiver because of insufficient detail, according to documents obtained by The Batavian today.

"The Municipal Service Division recommends that the State Civil Service Commission disapprove this request for lack of details on the results of the interviewing process," writes state staff in its recommendation to the commission.

The recommendation contradicts the detail on recruitment efforts and interviewing contained in two letters, with attachments, provided by Molino to the commission. One letter was submitted Oct. 8, 2008 and another on Jan. 16, 2009, four days before the commission notified Molino the city had not responded to its request for more information.

"We sent them everything they asked for," Molino said in an interview this afternoon.

Dillon resigned as fire chief last month after the state ruled that he could not continue to receive his pension from his 29 years with the Rochester Fire Department and draw a full-time salary in Batavia.  The city sought what is known as a 211 waiver, which is designed to help local governments fill vacant positions, especially on an interim basis, with retirees.

Molino attributed the denial of the waiver more (as we covered in a previous post) to a change in the state's willingness to grant 211 waivers.

"The whole point of the 211 process, it was created for interim positions for temporary periods of time and what's happened over the years is people have taken interim positions and turned them into permanent ones," Molino said.

The commission was told, Molino noted, that Dillon's appointment was intended to be temporary because at the beginning of the process, there was still some thought that the charter review process might led to a unified chief executive for police and fire (it turns out that isn't permissible under state law).

The city wanted to keep Dillon on until either a unified position was created or a civil service test for the position could be administered in January 2010.

"The other part of it was we weren't going to fill it permanently until this charter review was completed, and if there was a change in direction, we would change with it, otherwise, we would move forward with the test in January," Molino said.

The documents also reveal that prior the appointment of Dillon, all four Batavia Fire captains were considered for the position, but none were eligible for promotion.

The Batavian made its initial FOIL request the documents related to the city's waiver request a month ago. The FOIL request was fulfilled today.  Here are the documents (large PDF file).

May 18, 2009 - 12:10pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, fire chief, personnel.

Any one of the four fire captains who turned down the provisional fire chief position for the City of Batavia could still take command of the department.

There is not yet an eligible list for the position, said Karen Marchese, personnel officer for Genesee County, but a civil-service exam for fire chief has been scheduled for January. An eligible list are those people who are qualified and have applied for the job.

Marchese's office handles civil-service issues for governments in the county.

Chief Tom Dillon resigned week before last, and served his last day Friday, after the New York State Civil Service Commission denied a waiver that would have allowed him to draw his pension and his full-time salary.

The waiver, known as a 211 waiver, has its uses, according to the state's Web site, but Marchese said the commission is trying to reduce the number of such waivers, especially when there are eligible non-retired candidates for the job.

The hearing in which the 211 waiver for Dillon was reviewed by the commission was available in a webcast, Marchese said (the webcast is no longer online since the commission has met again since then).

"My recollection is that they discussed the nature of fire and police service -- there's a lot of tradition, as you know, in police and fire service -- and they discussed how it's primarily a promotion-based system," Marchese said. "They discussed that there were candidates who applied for the job who are not retirees.'

Marchese said she was not trying to speak for the commission and the exact reason for the denial is not clear.

Asked if she had anything to add, Marchese said, "I work very closely with the city and other localities on issues like this. This has been rather high profile and Jason and I have worked closely on it. We've had an open line of communication about it. He's working in good faith. There is no bad faith here on his part."

As for the captains, they've been told by Jason Molino not to discuss the situation with the media, according to two sources. The captains were told this was a "personnel issue," so they were prohibited from talking publicly about it.

May 15, 2009 - 4:27pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, fire chief.

At the close of business today, the Batavia Fire Department will be without a fire chief, as none of the four captains who are qualified to fill an interim position wanted to take on the role at this time, CIty Manager Jason Molino told WBTA this afternoon.

Molino said he will handle routine administrative tasks for the department while the job search for a new chief continues.

Chief Tom Dillon resigned after learning last week that the New York Civil Service Commission denied the city's request for a waiver on his position. Dillon retired after 29-years with the Rochester Fire Department and the commission said he could not continue to draw retirement and earn more than $30,000 per year.

May 11, 2009 - 9:05am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, fire chief, civil service.

Batavia's interim Fire Chief Thomas Dillon will serve his last day with the department on Friday.

Dillon is resigning after the New York Civil Service Commission denied a waiver that would have allowed him to continue drawing retirement benefits while receiving a full-time salary from the city.

Dillon retired after 29 years with the Rochester fire department and under civil service rules could not collect more than $30,000 per year as Batavia's chief without a waiver. The job pays $80,000 per year.

Details on the reason for the denial are not immediately available, but Dillon said he believed it had something to do with the availability of local candidates to fill the role.  Civil service rules only allow a full-time position to be filled by a retired public employee if there are not other qualified candidates for the job.

Dillon, who was appointed to the job in September, said he's disappointed to be leaving Batavia.

"This has been a great fit for me," Dillon said. "I can't say enough about how great the people here have been. I have nothing but good things to say about the people on both the fire and the medic side. It's been a great experience for me."

He also praised the city administration and repeated how disappointed he is that he's unable to stay in Batavia.

Dillon and his wife will return to Geneseo, where they ow na home, he said.

UPDATE: An alert reader notes that city officials must have known for a few days at least that Chief Dillon would be leaving. There is a help wanted ad in the Democrat and Chronicle. The job opening was not advertised with the Daily News nor The Batavian (which is free). Nor is the job placed with Craig's List, which is also free.

UPDATE II: Before tonight's council meeting, I spoke with Jason Molino.  "We've been advertising the position for the last week and we have received resumes," Molino said. He also said, "We are considering internal candidates, as well."

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