Derry town government - The rise and decline of the fire chief

Derry once operated a fire department where everybody was welcome. It was a place where the firefighters were professionals, but understood their small town roots.

But all this changed with the selection of George Klauber as Chief in July of 2003, by then Town Manager Carol Granfield (

Interestingly, at the same time that Klauber was involved in his Derry hiring process, the State of CT was calling for a major management and financial study of the very fire department he was leaving (

Klauber, the former chief of the Waterbury, CT, fire department, and one of the highest paid chiefs in NH, with a salary said to approach $115,000, with benefits totaling another 30 cents on the dollar, has succeeded in disrupting the fire department’s relationship with the town.

Then Derry was faced withthe Chief’s vain attempt to build a new 2.7 million dollar fire station, the Town’s fifth, which would’ve included another large increase in manpower and equipment.

But questions immediately arose. Why did Derry need a fifth station in a town of 34 sq.miles? Why was this additional station needed when both fire and EMS calls were both decreasing in number?

Two citizens even wrote a report to the council based on Klauber’s own statistics and those from the NFPA to illustrate that the construction of the station was unwarranted, citing concerns for a “proactive” approach, featuring inspections and community outreach, and dismissing the Chief’s increasingly expensive “reactive” response. A report which Council Chair Chirichiello failed to read into the minutes.

Luckily for the taxpayers, Councilor Dowling took a vacation, Chairman Chirichiello crafted a poorly conceived motion, one councilor changed his mind, Councilor Bulkley folded after one more expensive turn to the town’s attorney (indecision which has cost Derry a quarter of a million dollars lawyer’s fees this past year), and the taxpayers were saved another quick 2.7 million.

The first overt inklings of a real change in management became known in September, when a local woman was locked out of her house at 2:45am with her dogs. When she queried the dispatcher for a hand, she was advised to “call a locksmith,” on the chilly night involved. Questions immediately arose about the exact nature of the services the fire department does provide for its 10 million dollar budget.

Then came the Chief’s request for his firefighters to keep in shape at the Workout Club on Manchester Avenue while on duty, without requiring every member to participate, which was promptly approved by the town council’s majority. These expensive workouts can be completed at every station at little or no additional cost, under the supervision of department officers, just as they are all over the country.

Concerns also arose about fire trucks being used to get groceries.

Fire trucks are observed unattended at Dunkin’ Donuts while their crews lounge inside.

Further reports arose about firefighters completing local errands while on duty and in full uniform.

Then, in early October, Councilor Janet Fairbanks was advised by a disturbed constituent that the expensive ladder truck was used as some sort of a prop at a local wedding and made inquiries about its use. The truck was set up at the Congregational Church for a member’s nuptials and was said to be out of service for a quarter hour or so, according to Chief Klauber, though others say it was raising and lowering folks for photos far longer.

While the townspeople raised the specter of responding to fire calls without the services of their expensive hook and ladder, and concerns increased over the liability of civilians riding on it, Klauber agreed to reimburse the Town some $28.00 for its use, having decided that it was off duty for a quarter hour.

In mid-October, Chief Klauber, after a meeting with Town administrator Russ Marcoux concerning the incident, immediately sent a memo to the  FD ordering them to cancel all community outreach, further disturbing Marcoux, who then had to order Klauber to compose another memo rescinding his previous order.

Almost immediately, members of the DFD began posting highly disturbing information about Councilor Fairbanks on the website (“Councilor takes heat” Derry News, December 1, 2006). As aresult, Councilor Fairbanks received numerous uncomplimentary e-mails from as far away as Colorado, all designed to intimidate her, with many including unpleasant personal information known only by those in Derry.

Interestingly, Councilor Craig Bulkley (who belongs to the same Rotary Club as the Chief (, and who recently welcomed Chief Klauber as a fellow director at the Derry Boys and Girls Club (, in a public letter to the Derry News (“Stop looking for conspiracies,” December 20, 2006), attempted to counter the town wide talk about the Chief’s damaging memo and a previous letter to the editor which mentioned its existence, by stating, “Chief Klauber never canceled community outreach efforts…,” and added, “That is just one of the rumors floated by those who want to make you and others believe the worst.”

A second letter (“Trying to set the record straight,” Derry News, December 22, 2006) appeared, which explained that the previous author had received both memos courtesy of an RSA 91A request, that, yes, the disturbing memo did exist, and criticized the Councilor for not “performing due diligence” before he included the wild attributory remarks contained in his reply.

The taxpayers also learned that Klauber was no longer speaking to Councilors Fairbanks and Kevin Coyle on what he claims is the advice of an attorney. As a result, the town’s fire chief now refuses to have any regular business dealings with one councilor who represents the town at large, and with another who represents the population of its downtown area, merely because they questioned the activities of his department –by doing their jobs.

News of the Turning Point Program’s Derry involvement then appeared ( The now defunct public health advocacy group, once funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Trust, which exerted pressure on local communities to hire public health officials, featured evidence of the fire chief’s successful advocacy for the addition of a public health official to Derry government, an expensive and permanent cost, initially funded with rapidly disappearing federal dollars, in its newsletter ( The costs for the new employee can be viewed in the Town Council’s Adopted Budget for FY2007.

“Public health is to EMS what fire prevention is to fire. When I first started here, I couldn’t believe that we didn’t have a health department,” Chief Klauber exclaimed in a glowing reference to Turning Point’s successful Derry advocacy. And now the Town’s new public health officer, who makes almost 60k a year, reports directly to the embattled chief.

Now, with the selection of John Moody as interim Town Administrator (granted full executive power at the time of his hiring by the Council majority on January 2nd ), who is a fellow member of the Derry Village Rotary with Chief Klauber (, additional attention is being focused on Moody’s desire and ability to manage the public comportment of the chief.

Today, across the Town, the members of the DFD have stopped speaking to longtime friends and acquaintances as the animosity towards anyone who dares question fire department expenditures, policy changes, and the behavior of their chief, grows in intensity

With the Derry taxpayers learning that their town is flat broke, with a $350,000 dollar problem right off the top, with more bad news onthe way, after weathering their largest tax increase in years, with a Council 2007 goal of maintaining the current number of the increasingly expensive Town personnel( Town of Derry: Town Council and management Goals 2007; Personnel Count: Maintain current status), Chief Klauber’s increasingly extravagant tenure, his management style, and his advocacy for big government are becoming hot topics at the barbershops, flea markets, beer halls, donut parlors, and the diners dotting Derry.