Freeport fire chief to take medical leave, denies conflict of interest

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FREEPORT — Fire Chief Darrel Fournier this week said he resigned from a second job for medical reasons, and denied the job put him in a conflict of interest with his town position.

He said he will take a leave of absence as fire chief, for the same reasons.

In addition to being fire chief, Fournier worked part time at Paul Davis Restoration, a water, fire, and mold clean-up and restoration business. The national company also assists property owners with insurance claims.

Fournier said he resigned from Paul Davis because he “was going to resign anyway” after having surgery at the end of the month.

Questions about a potential conflict of interest were raised after Fournier suggested hiring Davis to the Freeport Housing Trust, owner of a Unity Lane duplex damaged by fire on Dec. 20, 2014.

Fournier this week said he doesn’t believe there was a conflict in his recommendation, but he understands that other people may see it differently.

Fournier said he is having shoulder surgery at the end of January and was planning to leave Davis at that time. He said he decided to leave now, instead of waiting a few more weeks, because of the questions about a possible conflict.

“I didn’t believe there was a conflict of interest, but I figured I’d clear it up and leave early,” he said.

Fournier also said he will be taking time off from his job as fire chief after the surgery, and Deputy Chiefs Paul Conley and Eric Sylvain will cover for him.

Fournier has worked in fire service since 1974 and has been Freeport’s chief for a total of more than 20 years, once in the 1980s and again since the late 1990s.

According to Mark Higgins, who owns the Paul Davis franchise in Portland, Fournier’s role with the company was to make people aware of its services after their homes or businesses caught fire. Higgins said this is typical in the restoration business.

“It’s common for restoration companies to form relationships with fire departments and fire chiefs,” he said. “If the fire chief wants to work part time it helps the restoration company.”

Higgins and Fournier both said Fournier’s work with Paul Davis didn’t interfere with his job as fire chief.

“All the work I did for (Paul Davis Restoration) was on my time off,” Fournier said.

Freeport’s personnel code states that no full-time town employee may hold another full-time job, unless the town manager or the employer’s department head is notified. The code doesn’t mention part-time jobs.

Town Manager Peter Joseph declined to discuss Fournier’s situation.

“It’s an ongoing personnel matter, so by law I can’t talk about it,” Joseph said.

Higgins said Fournier’s intention in working with Davis was to help people.

“The chief is one of the nicest men you could ever possibly meet,” Higgins said. “He thought he could offer something to the community.”

Higgins said most firefighters like to make sure displaced residents are cared for after a fire. He said homeowners are often relieved to have someone offer them advice or suggest a restoration company.

Higgins said Fournier was only trying to be helpful and never tried to pressure people into hiring Paul Davis.

“He thought it was a really nice additional service, where he could point people in the right direction,” Higgins said.

“The reason I don’t think it’s much of a story is because it’s common practice,” Higgins said. “It’s done across the country.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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Fire Chief Darrel Fournier, left, talking with reporters at a Dec. 20, 2014, fire on Unity Lane, has resigned from his second job after suggestions of a conflict of interest with his job as chief.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.