Suspended Cumberland fire chief: 'No ill intent' in payroll wrongdoing

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CUMBERLAND — Fire Chief Dan Small, who was suspended without pay for five days for falsifying payroll, said Monday he paid two employees for time they didn’t work as an incentive to provide paramedic coverage at other times.

Small was suspended Aug. 9-16, according to a disciplinary letter from Town Manager Bill Shane, which was obtained Aug. 17. The letter didn’t identify the employees. 

The chief was suspended “as a result of (his) actions related to the deliberate falsification of payroll forms on June 28, 2017, and July 7, 2017,” the letter said.

The two employees were paid for 36 hours of additional time they did not work, Shane said in an interview Aug. 17. The employees received about $720 extra, he said.

Small’s “suspension without pay more than covered that compensation,” the manager said, noting that Small – who divides his time between Cumberland and Portland, where he is a Fire Department lieutenant – earns about $1,000 a week in Cumberland.

“It was trying to make sure that we had paramedics on duty,” Small said in an interview Monday.

“We had tried several times to get coverage, so that was my next step, just to make sure that we did have paramedics,” the chief said. “It should have been checked with (Shane), and it should have been a group discussion before I did it.”

“There was certainly no ill intent to do it, it was just me not following policy,” he added.

Small said department policy is to have two people on duty around the clock: a firefighter/paramedic and a firefighter/emergency medical technician.

“(H)ours entered in the payroll for the two different days were days that they actually did not work,” Small wrote in an email Monday about how the records were falsified.

The payroll for the no-coverage days was appropriate, since both employees were compensated at regular time, Shane said. But they should not have been paid for hours on June 28 and July 7 – days they didn’t work.

It is the only time in Small’s 18-year tenure as chief that he has been disciplined, Shane said, noting that “Dan has an impeccable record. I think this was just a total lapse of judgment.”

“I believe in my heart it’s never happened before, and I don’t think it will ever happen again,” Shane said Monday. He declined to comment on whether the town would look at older payroll records to ensure payroll hadn’t previously been falsified.

Staffing paramedics isn’t easy, the town manager said.

“All departments around us are scrambling for paramedics,” Shane said. “It’s just a very difficult degree to obtain and to staff, and these folks are in great demand in the greater Portland area.” 

He said he and Small met Aug. 16, after the chief’s return to work, and will continue to meet weekly during renovations of the Central Fire Station at 366 Tuttle Road, which could be complete by next spring.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.