Troy selectmen issue apology about fire chief’s ‘hoarding’ comments

By Amy Calder, Morning Sentinel | Jan 04, 2019
The home at 384 Bangor Road in Troy sustained serious fire damage on the night of Dec. 2, 2018. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

The Troy Board of Selectmen is issuing a public apology to an older couple for comments the town’s fire chief made to the news media about a hoarding situation firefighters encountered when they fought a fire in the couple’s house Dec. 3, 2018, making it more difficult to fight the fire.

Fire Chief Gregory Packard Jr. told the Morning Sentinel at the time that an accumulation of objects in Gary and Sylvia Glidden’s home at 384 Bangor Road presented a hazardous situation and could have created a far more serious or even deadly scenario.

“A problem we’re seeing a lot more of these days is hoarding, which makes it hard to get in and put the fire out,” Packard told a reporter. “It’s not safe for the homeowners or the fire personnel going in.”

 

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He said firefighters knew Sylvia Glidden was in a wheelchair and were worried about not being able to get her out of the house, the inside of which he described as “a maze — a 2-foot pathway through the entire house.”

Second Selectman Richard Montana said Thursday that the Gliddens’ daughter approached Brian Piper, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, to ask that the board issue a public apology to the Gliddens, as the family was upset about Packard’s comments in the Morning Sentinel’s story about the fire.

Montana said selectmen discussed the situation in executive session and decided to send a public apology to the newspaper, which, issued on Town of Troy stationery, is as follows: “The town of Troy, Board of Selectmen, would like to issue a public apology to the Glidden family, whose house was lost to a fire for comments made on observations of the family and property reported in an article that appeared in the paper that were made by Fire Chief Gregory Packard Jr., on December 3, 2018.”

Montana said selectmen did not tell Packard they were placing a public apology in the newspaper, nor have they talked with him about his comments to the media about the fire.

“We have not discussed it with the chief yet,” he said.

A selectmen’s meeting was held Wednesday night and Packard attended the meeting, but the issue was not discussed, according to Montana.

“We didn’t think it was appropriate for somebody to comment on someone else’s lifestyle,” Montana said in a phone interview.

Packard is quoted in the newspaper story about the fire as saying Sylvia Glidden is a “heavier-set” woman, but he said earlier this week in a phone interview that he never described her as such, and that possibly a law enforcement official who helped get her out of the house issued that description to a reporter.

Montana, who said he does not know Sylvia Glidden, said selectmen thought dispensing that information also was inappropriate.

Asked if selectmen planned to take action against Packard for his comments, he said anything related to personnel is confidential.

“We probably will be speaking with the chief about the incident,” he said, though he did not elaborate on what would be discussed.

“It’s not really anything super-serious, but since the family requested an apology, we felt it was appropriate to contact (the newspaper).”

Packard did not return phone messages immediately Thursday seeking comment, but he said earlier this week that he has been chief since January and this is his fifth year working at the Fire Department.

He said the night of the fire, he was at a car accident about one-quarter mile away and did not get to the fire scene until firefighters were cleaning it up later.

He said his comments to a reporter about the condition of the home were no different than what fire chiefs around the state have said about clutter hindering firefighters’ efforts in emergency situations.

Meanwhile, contacted Thursday for comment, Jeffrey Cammack, executive director of the Maine Fire Chiefs Association, said it is up to a fire chief to comment to the news media on anything that might deter their firefighting and rescue efforts, such as clutter, hoarding or lack of water or smoke detectors.

Cammack, who worked 33 years at the Bangor Fire Department, 16 as chief, recalled fighting a fire at a home in that city where clothes were piled 4 feet high throughout the basement. He said that a fire chief’s saying to the news media that hoarding or clutter hinders firefighting and rescue efforts is not inappropriate.

“I probably have made that statement myself,” Cammack said. “He’s simply making a statement that he’s worried about those folks’ well-being, especially if she’s in a wheelchair and accessibility is an issue.”

He said emergency workers talk about wheelchair accessibility and how important it is to keep pathways of entrance and exit open so as not to hinder movement.

Firefighters from nine departments worked Dec. 3 at the Glidden house fire.

As resident Gary Glidden was cooking dinner for his wife on the first floor, flames spread from a wall outlet to several other areas of the home, Packard told the Morning Sentinel at the time. Glidden attempted to extinguish the blaze with one of several fire extinguishers in the house, but after it rekindled, Packard concentrated more on getting his wife out, according to Packard.

No one was injured in the fire. Packard estimated about two-thirds of the house was damaged, including parts of the living room and an addition.

Packard talked to Gary Glidden after the fire about the clutter in the house and how it hinders emergency efforts.

“I mentioned that to him and how it hampered us from fighting,” Packard said at the time.

The fire was reported at 10:14 p.m. and firefighters cleared the scene at 2:27 a.m. the next day, a Monday.

Firefighters from Troy, Thorndike, Unity, Dixmont, Monroe, Freedom, Albion, Plymouth and Jackson responded to the scene, while five other towns were on standby.

Packard said that Monroe’s Fire Department provided a portable cascade system that allowed them to have an air refilling system at the scene, which helped responders fight the fire more quickly and efficiently.

The Troy Fire Department is a municipal department, according to Montana, the second selectman.

“Volunteers do the work, but it’s run by the municipality,” he said.

The town owns the firefighting equipment and selectmen hire and fire officers. Montana said the department selects a chief and if selectmen are satisfied with firefighters’ choice, they usually approve that hiring.

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