Public Workforce

All Hail the Mayor!

Fire fighters in North Providence, Rhode Island, are smoldering in the wake of two incidents in which they allege Mayor A. Ralph Mollis chewed them out for not saluting him.
by | May 2000

Fire fighters in North Providence, Rhode Island, are smoldering in the wake of two incidents in which they allege Mayor A. Ralph Mollis chewed them out for not saluting him.

The latest episode occurred last September, during a fire that gutted two local businesses. According to a letter issued by the fire fighters' union that only recently became public, Mollis threatened to fire a veteran pump operator who failed to salute him at the scene.

In fact, department regulations do call for fire fighters to salute ranking officers, including the mayor, who also serves as the town's public safety director. But enforcement of that policy has traditionally been ignored, especially in the course of battling blazes. "That pump operator is responsible for every drop of water coming out of the fire truck," says union president James Grande. "He can't be disturbed."

Although fire departments are often run as paramilitary organizations, in most places saluting is typically reserved for ceremonial occasions. Another saluting infraction by North Providence fire fighters allegedly occurred during Independence Day festivities in 1997.

In response to the union's letter, Mollis has issued a somewhat Clinton-esque statement, noting that he had reprimanded fire fighters "who were acting or performing in an unacceptable manner," although he declines to say exactly what that manner was. "I have a $50 million budget to look after," Mollis says. "The last thing I'm worried about is whether fire fighters salute me or not."

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