Thirty-two-year-old Matt Cole wears a number of hats in the fire service in New Hampshire. Cole is a career firefighter in Concord, a newly appointed volunteer deputy chief at the Chichester Fire Department and until recently an on-call firefighter in Gilmanton. It’s his resignation from the Gilmanton Fire Department that has Cole making news in the Concord Monitor.
Cole’s resignation comes at a time when he is facing up to a $1000 fine after being charged with speeding while responding to a garage fire in a Gilmanton fire engine on July 7 . New Hampshire State Police Trooper Matt Partington says the fire engine almost hit a BMW that had pulled off the side of the road to let the rig pass. More on this from the article by Matthew Spoler:
Cole was rounding a curve too fast on Route 107 near Kitchen Lane and more than half of his vehicle left the pavement, leaving skid marks on the road, Partington said. The driver of the idle BMW had to slam on the gas to avoid the fire engine, which then overcorrected and crossed into the oncoming lane before straightening out.
The BMW suffered damage to its undercarriage because it drove into an embankment to avoid the fire engine, Partington said.
Though Cole was not clocked at a particular speed, Partington said his investigation showed Cole’s speed “was greater than reasonable under the conditions.”
The article quotes Gilmanton Chief K. G. Lockwood as saying the resignation is not because of the pending court date for Cole. Lockwood says it is due to Cole’s new duties as the Chichester deputy chief.
But Chief Lockwood must understand the position Matt Cole is in. The chief is also in the news over another driving issue while responding. More from reporter Spoler:
The incident involving Cole was the second near-accident caused by a Gilmanton fire vehicle this summer.
The first driving incident occurred June 4 when a command vehicle crossed into an oncoming lane to pass a fire truck and ambulance, nearly striking a motorcyclist. Following an investigation by the county sheriff’s office, the selectmen placed Chief Lockwood on a weeklong administrative leave starting the week of Aug. 1.
Lockwood returned to work last Tuesday. The town has refused to say whether he was paid during his time off. State law requires all payments to public employees to be made public.
Investigating the June incident, Sheriff Craig Wiggin wrote town officials that a review of policies and training for the Gilmanton Fire Department may be needed, saying, “There is no question that these incidents have placed the town at tremendous risk of significant civil liability.” The Gilmanton selectmen responded by requiring mandatory driver training for the firefighters.
“Deputy Sheriff Joseph Schillinger, who was assigned to investigate the incident involving the motorcyclist, interviewed several firefighters whose names were redacted by the town in his report.
According to one of the firefighters, after the incident the driver of the command vehicle blamed the motorcyclist for failing to “yield the right of way to a fire apparatus,” Schillinger wrote.
Though the driver is not identified due to the redactions, he appears to be in a position of power in a department with four full-time firefighters and about 40 on-call members.
“Being that he is (redacted), other members of the department probably take their cue from him as to what is, or is not, acceptable behavior,” Schillinger wrote. “If he did in fact make statements at the fire station blaming the motorist for the near miss, then this sends the wrong message to the rest of the department.”