Former fire chief speaks out on resignation via letter
Searsport — Former Fire Chief Jim Dittmeier spoke out publicly for the first time since selectmen voted to accept his resignation earlier this month; his comments came in the form of a letter that resident Don Garrold read to the board.
Selectmen heard Dittmeier's correspondence during the regular meeting Tuesday night, June 19.
Garrold said he was reading the letter as a friend to Dittmeier, who stated in his written correspondence that his resignation remains "an emotional subject for me," and that he no longer wished to be subjected to "the prosecutorial environment" he said he had faced in recent months.
Dittmeier said that in the eight total years he's served the town — five as fire chief — he spent an average of 35 hours a week at the public safety building, though his oral contract with the town called for his presence there 15 hours per week. During his tenure, Dittmeier said, he secured thousands of dollars' worth of grants to help the town obtain fire equipment, helped start the Waldo County HazMat Team, served as president of the Waldo County Fire Chiefs Association, sat on the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Advisory Committee at Waldo County Technical Center and helped obtain $10,000 worth of grant funding to establish the Waldo County Confined Space Team.
He said his "issue with management started with a lie," which Dittmeier described as an accusation by a local flea market operator who said she heard him say he would not go put out a fire at her business. In his letter, Dittmeier said he received a letter of reprimand for the alleged comment, but that he did not receive a copy of that letter himself until six months later.
Dittmeier also expressed dissatisfaction at the conduct of some selectmen, noting a selectman stated at a public meeting that the town had received a "disturbing" letter about the fire chief.
"Was this a coincidence, or was this done on purpose to make the papers," asked Dittmeier. "You decide."
Dittmeier stated that the letters came from those who have aligned themselves with a coalition of local businesspeople and residents known as "Thanks But No Tank," a group that has become known regionally for their collective questioning of the proposal from DCP Midstream. Dittmeier said the letters constituted a "planned attack" on him because he has been a vocal supporter of the project.
The former chief also stated that comments he made on a Facebook page that carried the identification of the Searsport Fire Department about those who oppose the project were made on a page that was not officially town-owned. Since the town didn't own the site, and the town lacked a social media policy when he created his posting, the town had no legal grounds for taking issue with his comments, the letter said.
Dittmeier also addressed a complaint that local campground owner Steve Tanguay brought before selectmen in April regarding what he described as an unusual number of visits and inspections his campground has had from the Maine State Fuel Board this year. Tanguay said his business was subjected to four drop-ins by the board regarding the campground's on-site propane filling station, and added that the visits had been prompted by complaints Dittmeier initiated.
Dittmeier, however, said he was disappointed because he had reason to believe the campground's propane station had been unlicensed for five years, and even though the Town Office staff "knew the whole story from the beginning" none moved to defend his actions.
He also took a shot at the local media.
"The papers will print anything to sell papers," he said.
Dittmeier had not returned requests for comment in recent months, requests that were extended via telephone and electronically.
Dittmeier said the only selectman who publicly stood up for him and the fire department was Joe Perry, and he "gets a lot of flak for it."
In his letter, Dittmeier also stated that he was not open to questions, nor did he wish to offer further comment once Garrold finished reading his written comments to the board.
"Don't worry about me," stated Dittmeier, noting he already had a job offer in another community.