A heated back and forth exchange between Village of Farnham Mayor Julie Gibbons and Farnham Volunteer Fire Department Chief Peter Chiavetta erupted during the Farnham Village Board’s May 21 meeting.
The exchange stems from an incident that took place approximately a month and a half ago when Gibbons stopped an ambulance from responding to call in the Town of Brant because, as she put it, the person driving the ambulance at the time was not a qualified driver.
“Based on my personal knowledge, he had not yet completed the fire department’s training requirements to become a qualified driver.”
“We had an episode, the mayor and I, where she thought she was representing the village and herself by stopping our ambulance from responding,” Chiavetta said. “It was a situation where I was on an ambulance call and asked my ambulance to respond and was told that the mayor had stopped the ambulance from responding. She has no right to stop the ambulance from responding.”
“Under New York State Village Law 10-1018, I have absolute authority in directing the members of my fire department. I have control over and above the police unless it is a crime scene. Laws and regulations, both in our own constitution in the Fire department and by State law, no one is to interfere without cause.”
Chiavetta requested that the village board censure the mayor and draft a letter of reprimand to put in her file.
He then pointed out that both the mayor and her husband, Harry Gibbons, had been suspended from the fire department, which caused Harry Gibbons to speak up before storming out of the meeting.
“This is very serious stuff,” Chiavetta said. “I’ve been here 40 years in this fire department and have asked other fire departments about this issue and no one has ever come across this issue before. The Erie County District Attorney is even unfamiliar with anything like this.”
The district attorney does not want to deal any further with this and they do not want to prosecute this matter, Chiavetta said, though he isn’t going to let it go that easily.
“I can’t just let this rest because there are two violations here, obstruction of my administrative duties and obstruction of the response of an emergency vehicle. It’s unprecedented, and I think we need to take care of it on this level because this is what the DA wanted me to take care of, on the local level.”
“It’s really up to the board to issue this letter of reprimand so that the mayor understands she is not to interfere anymore. We have done this already on our side of things in the fire company and I think now the ball is in your court.”
Chiavetta then threatened to resign as fire chief is he did not receive the backing of the village board.
“I’m asking the board to act on this, because I’ll tell you what, a non-action is non-backing and if I don’t have the backing of the Board on this, I have to reconsider my position with the department. If the board does not act on this, I’m going to resign from my position with the Farnham Fire Department, because I need the backing of the board on this.”
Trustee George Cordia then agreed to the letter of reprimand.
“If it’s a letter you’re requesting, then fine, the letter can go in her file, and if it’s wrong, it can be rescinded. If it comes down the line that the letter was not the proper thing to do, then it can be rescinded.”
“I want it on the record though that the mayor is being told to stay out of the fire chief’s business and that there is a proper channel for her to not intervene, but to find out what the procedure is,” Chiavetta said.
“I was under the impression that I had a qualified driver,” Chiavetta said. “The person that answered and was on the radio said they were standing by for an EMT, so that would give me the impression that I had a qualified driver. Now, the person in question is on the driver training list, a list we have taken people from to drive our vehicles. The driver would have been reprimanded if he had arrived on the scene but he never did. You had no right to block him.”
Gibbons said that this matter should have not been discussed at a public meeting.
“We most definitely should have gone into executive session,” she said. “This should not have been brought up at a public meeting.”
“There are charges pending and as of now and a decision has not yet been rendered by the Erie County District Attorney, but charges were filed in the Town of Brant. I have asked the village attorney to review all of the fire department’s policies, procedures, by-laws, constitutions, and training requirements for both fire and ambulance, and he is not sure if this falls under the scope of his current contract with the village. This is a matter between me and the fire department, and I will get this matter taken care of.”
Gibbons then pointed out that if they are to pen a letter of reprimand that it would have to be reviewed by the village attorney.
“Whatever the board decides to do is their decision. They have to make their own decision on this since it is against me. I’d just like to make sure that whatever decisions they do make, they consult the attorney.”