SEA ISLE CITY - Police Chief Thomas D'Intino assumed control of the city's volunteer fire department this week and launched an investigation into rumors that some firefighters threatened to ignore fires over a personnel dispute.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio signed an executive order appointing the chief to oversee and investigate the all-volunteer department, which has served the island since 1896.
At Desiderio's request, City Council convened an emergency meeting Friday to get an explanation for his decision.
Two senior members of the fire company resigned Monday. Desiderio said he will not accept their resignations until the investigation is complete in hopes they will reconsider.
Desiderio said the company is at odds over the yearlong suspension of Lt. John Mazurie Jr., son of fire company Chief John Mazurie, issued by senior officers within the company. Seven senior officers voted to dismiss the chief's son for alleged insubordination, bullying and belligerence, in particular a heated argument at an Oct. 6, 2010, fire meeting during which police were called.
The fire officers subsequently agreed to demote the younger Mazurie and suspend him for a year. But the fire chief would not authorize those actions, two senior officers wrote in letters of resignation submitted this week.
The chief agreed to consider his son for reinstatement after six months.
Keith B. Larsen, who has served on the company for 34 years, said the chief had stated his intention to retire this month. But he recanted on that decision, Larsen said, to see that his son is reinstated.
"Such favoritism of a relative is nepotism, and a double standard now exists within the fire department," Larsen wrote in his resignation letter.
The Sea Isle City Volunteer Fire Department is composed of 33 members who operate through bylaws passed in 1896.
"I feel there is an apparent lack of respect by the chief and some members of the company for the line officers and the chain of command they represent," Lt. Ronald Vansant wrote in his resignation letter this week.
"I find this to be intolerable," he said.
Fire Chief John Mazurie could not be reached for comment Friday. John Mazurie Jr. declined to comment on the mayor's executive order or say what prompted the disagreement with the senior officers in the first place.
"The Sea Isle City Fire Department is full of great members. They do their job very well and will respond to any fire call," he said. "We all take our jobs very seriously no matter what."
Desiderio said some of the rank-and-file firefighters sided with the fire chief and his son. And in the exchanges, some unsettling rumors began to circulate on the island, he said.
"There were some rumblings that some volunteer firefighters wouldn't respond to fires," Desiderio said. "I can't wait for a fire to see if this is real."
Police Detective Lt. Kirk Rohrer on Friday said he interviewed 24 of the department's 33 members so far and all indicated they would not hesitate to respond to a fire call.
The executive order also calls on the police chief to determine if the company's chain of command is intact. If not, he has the authority to re-establish the authority of senior officers.
D'Intino has the discretion under the executive order to establish any new rules he deems necessary in the company's bylaws. The 20-page bylaws were written in the days when firefighters pulled fire wagons with drag ropes and levied 25-cent fines for any firefighter who shirked his duties.
"Any member bringing any intoxicating liquors near the apparatus while on duty, without permission of the foreman, shall be fined 50 cents," the bylaws state.
Likewise, playing cards, except for amusement, was not allowed in the carriage house.
The bylaws do not address issues such as nepotism or conflicts of interest that the department is wrestling with today.
Desiderio said the fire department will retain sole responsibility for disciplining its members. The investigation will not address the disciplinary action taken against the fire chief's son, he said. Desiderio said the younger Mazurie has since apologized to his company.
"The Mazurie family have been dedicated servants to Sea Isle City for generations," he said.
The mayor said he hopes to resolve the investigation quickly and turn oversight of the department back to the fire chief and its chain of command. Sea Isle City has mutual-aid agreements with surrounding municipalities in the event of any unusual fire or natural disaster.
"As quickly and as good as they cooperate, that's as quick as we'll be out," he said.
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