The Day, New London, Conn.
MONTVILLE, Conn. — The town's emergency management director has called for an investigation into Chesterfield Fire Company's public information officer after the latter posted a controversial comment about personal protective equipment, or PPE, on Facebook.
Emergency Management Director William Bundy, who is also Montville's fire marshal, emailed members of the Town Council and Public Safety Commission on Tuesday requesting that they investigate Chesterfield PIO Steven Frischling for "violations in the process of applying for, receiving of, and/or dispensing of any federal or state resource such as the PPE by him or his department."
Frischling commented on a Harbor Freight Tools' Couponers Facebook page post indicating he had taken a Tyvek suit from the fire station.
"Thank goodness I just keep getting boxes of them at my fire station," Frischling wrote, referring to gloves. "I'd like to thank the pandemic for also giving me free Tyvek suits. Great for projects around the house … although I think they are supposed to be used for PPE around patients. Oh well, my home office got repainted and my clothes didn't get covered in paint."
Reached on Thursday, Frischling said the post he commented on has been deleted — not by him — for days, and that a screenshot of his comment had been doctored to not include a note he originally made explaining that he was being facetious.
"What they removed was at the bottom. I put an asterisk because I knew some wise guy would say I'm stealing stuff," Frischling said. "The bottom of it is cropped and cut off. You can do it in Photoshop."
He said he included a side note after the asterisk to the effect of: "The Tyvek suit was torn and being disposed of."
"The PPE was being discarded. I was the person who picked up the PPE from the FEMA dump or the DPH (state Department of Public Health) dump, and we were stocking a Tyvek suit that had a tear in it," Frischling said. "The option is you take it home and repurpose it, or you throw it in the garbage. At which point, if we threw it in the garbage, I'd have every legal right to remove it because the garbage is now public."
While Chesterfield Fire Co. Chief Keith Truex called Frischling's Facebook comment "a momentary lapse in judgment," he defended him, saying that Frischling did not misappropriate PPE because he doesn't have access to the area where the equipment is stored, which also has a security camera.
"The Tyvek suit in question was damaged, it was not a viable piece of PPE," Truex said. "It was essentially garbage that was literally thrown out and Steven said, 'Can I have it?' When he was told, 'Yes,' it was taken out of a trash can, and he took it home and put some duct tape on it to use as a painter suit."
"His remarks, whether true, jokingly or not, are insensitive and unprofessional. He has been titled and recognized by not only the Chesterfield Volunteer Fire Company, but all of the four independent volunteer fire companies, as the public information officer," Bundy wrote in a letter to town officials. "I assure you that these remarks and actions do not represent the posture and direction of the Town of Montville Fire Service and Emergency Management nor mine."
Bundy warned that Frischling's comment references PPE items "in great and high demand to (front-line) health care workers and first responders, and it is our responsibility as the Emergency Management Department to ensure no misappropriation of these resources has occurred."
Frischling denied any wrongdoing, saying that he hasn't hampered the volunteer fire companies' ability to obtain PPE.
"The town does not acquire PPE for the fire service," Frischling said. "The four fire companies acquire their own PPE. They stock their own PPE. Neither the fire marshal's office nor the town is involved in that in any way."
Truex also said the town doesn't provide PPE, though fire companies do get some equipment from the state.
Frischling went on to say that "there is an animosity that does not need to exist between the town and the fire companies."
Truex said he wished the fire marshal had handled this issue internally. He asserted that this was a personal conflict between Bundy and Frischling.
"It's my belief that this is just the fire marshal attempting to further his personal goals of getting rid of Steven Frischling," Truex said.
The Public Safety Commission last met on Nov. 23. Commissioners and members of the public, including volunteer firefighters, spoke at length about perceived animosity between paid staff and volunteers.
Former Oakdale fire Chief Gary Murphy touched on the issue at that meeting, according to the minutes: "He spoke of the respect he had for all staff during his career as a chief, safety issues brought to his attention and a commonality of purpose. He also commented about the issues, hate and discontent between career and paid firefighters, and said he was perplexed about its origin."
Frischling also referenced the rift between the town and volunteer fire companies.
While all the companies remain independent, in November they came together to improve messaging and recruitment efforts by forming the Town of Montville Fire Service, an effort in which Frischling was deeply involved. The move also made it so that a unified voice, led by Frischling, would keep social media updated under the Town of Montville Fire Service umbrella regarding certain topics, such as public health information.
The Public Safety Commission's next meeting is on Dec. 28. The Town Council meets on Monday.
(c)2020 The Day (New London, Conn.)