A longtime member and fire chief of the Blasdell Volunteer Fire Department was officially removed from his duties by the Blasdell Village Board at last Wednesday’s (Sept. 19) meeting, as the move comes amid allegations of inappropriate conduct.
Rob Michalski, who for more than a decade had served within the fire department, including the last several as chief, was ousted by a board vote of 4-1, as Deputy Mayor Lou McDonald cast the dissenting “no” vote. It was stated during the work session prior to the meeting that the matter arose from Michalski’s actions- specifically taking place with the use of loud profanity toward a village official at a summer concert at JFK Playground, being construed in the nature of harassment/disorderly conduct, due to the alleged actions which occured in a public place.
Blasdell Mayor Michael Petrie was described as having suspended Michalski following the transgression, with the fire department’s first assistant chief, John Welch, serving as acting fire chief. It was also said that Michalski’s suspension was justified under the “emergency situation” status of the alleged inappropriate actions.
Village Attorney James Shaw, speaking during the work session, stated that following the suspension of Michalski, the former fire chief was given notice of his right to a fair hearing and his option of legal representation to feasibly combat the enacted item.
Michalski was said to have 10 days to appeal the suspension, to which he did not respond, and allegations of Michalski’s reported inappropriate behavior during the summer concert incident were stated to have been supported by an eyewitness.
Petrie added that the severity of Michalski’s actions extended to where the former fire chief could not sustain his duties within the fire department. It was further stated that Michalski had compiled a notable record file of previous incidents, items reviewed by the entire village board, that warranted his actions at the summer concert being an additional, removable transgression.
“The way he acted (during the alleged summer concert incident), there was no way (the village or fire department) could have him serving,” said Petrie, who added that he was surprised at the alleged sizable length of Michalski’s prior incidents upon board review.
The mayor noted that Michalski had served within the fire department for a considerable amount of time. Trustee Matt Chandler said that despite the board’s decision to remove Michalski from his duties, the importance of Michalski’s work within the fire department over his tenure cannot be diminished.
“We all have a tremendous amount of respect for the work of our volunteer fire department, and it’s unfortunate that the chief could no longer remain a member of the department,” Chandler told The Sun. “We wish him the best.”
Michalski was not available for comment regarding the matter, despite efforts made by The Sun.
McDonald criticized the decision to remove Michalski, stating during the work session that he believes discipline of an individual who serves the village should be “corrective,” adding that full removal was rash in nature. The deputy mayor later said that although he was not present during the aforementioned verbal confrontation at the summer concert series, removing Michalski represents a punitive measure of reaction.
“(The incident) didn’t reach a plateau of removing somebody,” McDonald said. “Everybody has had a bad day…I don’t make the rules, but removal (after suspension) is the last resort. “
McDonald added that just because Michalski did not respond to the notice of appeal to his suspension, that does not mean the former fire chief is guilty of a terminable charge.
The deputy mayor also said he and the other board members reviewed Michalski’s previous record of incidents, and that his resulting character assessment of the former chief is not the same as the other trustees.
“They read what I read, and they viewed it differently,” said McDonald. “To lose someone like (Michalski) over a verbal confrontation with (another person), it seems a bit harsh.”