Milford fire chief on leave; department’s future to be studied
Milford — The township’s veteran fire chief has been placed on paid administrative leave while officials consider the future of its fire department, Supervisor Donald Green said Tuesday.
Lawrence Waligora, who has been chief for nearly 15 years, has been temporarily removed from his $75,000-a-year job, Green said.
The move, approved by the township’s board of trustees last Thursday, comes less than a month after the fire department reached its first worker contract in the township of 16,000.
“That (contract) has nothing to do with this,” Green said. “We have a consultant looking at various options for it (fire department) and how it will best serve the community. That is still to be decided.”
Green gave no explanation for the move and said under an agreement, Waligora would not be discussing it either.
Township officials put out a statement Monday which said, in part: “Waligora will be unavailable for any/all daily operations of the Milford Fire Department. This includes any communications relating to emergency responses, emergency operation or administrative duties/questions.”
Milford Police Chief Thomas Lindberg will take over running the fire department and will be accountable “for all emergency responses, as well as having the authority to deal with staffing issues and implement any collective bargaining agreement requirements,” according to the press release.
Assistant Fire Chief Thomas Moore remains the department’s highest ranking officer. The department has 28 firefighters, including the chief’s job which is the only full-time position. The rest are part-time, paid on-call jobs at $19.38 an hour.
Citing unfair treatment and poor communication with department leadership, the township’s firefighters organized with the Michigan Association of Fire Fighters in March 2015. After one year of bargaining, the firefighters negotiated a three-year contract last month with the township with benefits including annual raises and holiday pay.
Ronald Palmquist, a labor relation specialist with MAFF, said he and others were “surprised” by Waligora being put on leave.
“He was part of their (township) team during negotiations and if there was some problem there, we didn’t see or hear it,” Palmquist said.
Green’s press release said the “Board of Trustees thank and appreciate Chief Waligora’s 15 years of dedicated service to the community” and “the entire board is confident the Milford firefighters will continue their dedicated service while we work through this transitional period to identify existing best practices within the department and explore future service deliveries.”
It is the second removal of a veteran Metro Detroit fire chief in a little over a month.
Longtime Northville Fire Chief Ronald Marinucci, Jr. no longer leads that community’s 30-man department as of March 18. Township officials said after a meeting last month with Marinucci that he had resigned his $116,000-a year post.
Marinucci has nearly 40 years of firefighting experience, was formerly the chief in Farmington Hills and has been active in several state and national groups providing firefighter training.
Marinucci, who has since hired an attorney, has denied offering his resignation but would not comment on what might have led to his sudden exit. He did not rule out a possible lawsuit.
“We are still exploring our options,” said Marinucci’s attorney, Jill Schinske.