The camera zooms in on a Warwick special hazards truck. The shadows are long. It’s evening.
The voice is that of Rob Cote, who led the car tax revolt several years ago and since has shot and disseminated a number of videos reportedly taken while following public works trucks. According to his reports, the trucks spent a lot of time driving around the city but not much more than that.
In his latest video that he sent out last Tuesday, Cote tells the viewer there’s no fire at the dock, at the pool or the boat storage area. He says he’s “relaxing” on his boat; it’s June 24 and that it’s 7:49 p.m.
So, he raises the question, what’s a million dollar piece of equipment doing at Greenwich Bay Marina, which is in the Cowesett section of Warwick?
“Let’s find out,” he says.
And then the camera shows the marina gazebo. People are congregated around it. They appear to be talking in what appears to be a social setting although, from the grainy photos, it’s hard to identify them or tell what they are doing.
Cote intones that it’s a party and catches a picture of what could be a pizza box on the ground. He says the firefighters are “having a grand old time on the taxpayer’s dime.”
The YouTube video clip, the subject of the Dan York WPRO talk show, and stories by Channel 10 and the Providence Journal have prompted an outcry from some residents wanting an explanation. Last Thursday, the mayor’s office responded. It was reported that three firefighters had been reprimanded.
The following statement was released by the mayor’s office: “My administration became aware of the video regarding the Fire Department Special Hazards team members, and, accordingly, I instructed Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong to investigate these allegations immediately. The employees involved have been reprimanded and disciplined. Because this is a personnel matter, the City is unable to comment further.”
On Sunday, Mayor Scott Avedisian was asked what a reprimand entailed. He said letters went into the personnel files of the three men. They were reprimanded on the basis they were outside of their district while on duty – the truck is stationed on Post Road, near Ann & Hope, and the marina is in Cowesett. Would they have their pay docked?
“We don’t know how long they were there,” he answered.
But he believes there’s more to the story than what the video shows. He said the city requested the full video, but Cote hasn’t provided it. And he speculates that the firefighters might have been set up to take the fall. He didn’t identify who invited the firefighters to the marina.
But why would a special hazards truck go to a marina when there isn’t a fire?
Avedisian said that, in the wake of the Edgewood Yacht Club fire, the department has questioned how it would or should fight a marina fire. He said the department initiated a program to assess marinas to determine what the department would face when responding to a fire. This, presumably, would take into consideration the length of docks, proximity to hydrants and other issues that could impact the ability to fight fires.
Cote said he doesn’t believe it.
He recounted how the incident happened on Sunday. He said on the evening of June 24 he went down to the marina to check on his boat about 7. When he pulled into the lot, he spotted the special hazards truck and didn’t think much of it. While at the boat, he said he received a call from a client and, after nearly 40 minutes on the phone, the phone battery was close to being drained. When he returned to his car to charge it, he said the fire truck was still there. He wondered what was happening, looked around and saw the party at the gazebo and started recording the scene with his phone.
He said a couple of men saw what he was doing and a woman who was with them walked over to Cote’s car and blocked his view. He said she demanded to know why he was taking pictures of her, while she was blocking his view of the gazebo. With no mention of the firefighters, he said she volunteered, “They weren’t drinking.” As this was happening, Cote said, the three men skirted the area and returned to the truck and left.
Cote said he then called fire dispatch, identified himself, said what he had seen and asked for the chief’s number. He said the chief told him he would have to check out the story and get back to him. In about an hour, he said, the chief called and reported the men had been reprimanded.
Cote said he told the chief he was fed up with the wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money and he was going to post the video.
Acting chief of staff and City Planner William DePasquale said yesterday the firefighters “exercised poor judgment” by attending the party. He did not make an issue of the video or how the information was disseminated.
“If the action was not appropriate it doesn’t matter who brought it up. It was not appropriate.”
He said the chief acted “swiftly” in dealing with the situation when it came to his attention and that the men involved have been reprimanded.