At Searsport selectmen's meeting

Former fire chief speaks out on resignation via letter

By Tanya Mitchell | Jun 23, 2012
Source: File image Jim Dittmeier

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.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Jeanine E Tucker | Jun 26, 2012 09:30

Whether you are a Firefighter; an EMT, a Police Officer or other municipal employee you are expected to bite your tongue and have no opinion, even when you are off the clock. When you are in your work environment, or representing your profession, you SHOULD abstain from comment. However, when you are on your own personal time there is no reason why you can't join the rest of the free world and speak for what you believe in. Unfortunately for Dittmeier this interfered with the perception of his more that superb performance as both Fire Chief and EMA Director. I had the priveledge of working with 'Ditty' and can tell you first hand I would have no reservations of putting my life in his hands and THAT is what this position is about.

Posted by: Whitney Aitken | Jun 25, 2012 13:43

BS!  He owes an apology?  No. We all owe him our thanks, for his years of volunteerism protecting our townspeople.  "Regardless of what this guy has done for the department"?  What he has done IS his job.  Not to be a talking bobble head relaying what the town wants him to relay.  He gave his personal opinion, as all other townspeople are warranted. We should be angry that we are losing an apparently very capable and successful fire chief over politics.  I have never met Mr. Dittmeier, but I thank him all the same.  Sorry to see you leave in this manner.

Posted by: Harold Richardson | Jun 24, 2012 20:28

I am a retired fireman-25 years with a full time department.  When you are a fire chief, doesn't matter whether volunteer or full time it is a 24/7 job.  Everything that comes out of your mouth is coming from the Fire Chief.  This man has no one to blame but himself.  I doubt very much that he said any of the terrible things he was accused of but he opened the door to that possibility by his previous behavior and comments.  Some of the Searsport volunteers have defended him but I doubt you will find anyone outside of town that doesn't agree that he got himself in this situation.  When you are a department head-you do lose certain privileges, that goes with the job and if you don't like it then you don't take the job.  Regardless of what this guy has done for the department he stepped in it big time with this and he owes his department and the good people of Searsport an apology and not this rant that he had someone else read.   

If you wish to comment, please login.