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Firefighters' union eyeing vote of no-confidence in fire marshal

State House Bureau

January 09. 2017 8:07PM

CONCORD — The union representing professional firefighters throughout the state will meet in Concord on Wednesday to set the stage for a vote of no-confidence in Fire Marshal Bill Degnan, even as Executive Councilor Joe Kenney pushed for Degnan’s reappointment in the first Executive Council meeting with newly elected Gov. Chris Sununu last week.

“This is a first in the history of our organization that we’ve had a discussion about the process we would use for a vote of no confidence,” said David Lang, President of the Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire, the union that represents career firefighters in the larger communities with full-time departments. “We’re going to talk about what the process is going to look like. How we are going to do it. We’ve never done it before.”

The firefighters union endorsed Gov. Maggie Hassan for Senate and has been a contributor to her political campaigns. Hassan had refused to bring Degnan’s appointment to a vote on the Executive Council, despite pressure from Republican councilors led by Kenney.

Degnan, who has a 37-year career in the fire service and has served as fire marshal since 2004, has been left hanging since his term expired in March. He has declined to comment on the controversy surrounding his reappointment.

Degnan is popular with the state’s fire chiefs and among volunteer firefighters who staff the smaller departments throughout the state.

Lang said the professional firefighters, which serve about 65 percent of the state’s population, are looking for more modern leadership.

“We need a fire marshal who is going to respect the tradition of the fire service, but use technology and innovation and be forward thinking,” said Lang. “This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It’s a public safety issue that deals with how we protect the public.”

Lang said his membership is looking for a fire marshal who will be front-and-center in the opioid epidemic, more familiar with new technology and more active in pressing for their interests in health-related issues like the impact of flame retardants on cancer rates.

Degnan has focused on the traditional role of the fire marshal in promoting fire safety, conducting arson investigations and assisting in training, said Lang.

The State Board of Fire Control joined volunteer firefighters and fire chiefs across the state with a letter endorsing Degnan in November.

Kenney brought the matter up as one of his most urgent concerns at the Executive Council’s organizational meeting with newly elected Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday.

“One of my closest items is our state fire marshal and making sure that somehow that issue gets resolved,” he said.

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