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Westbrook fire chief dismissed from fire dept., on paid administrative leave from town job after posting controversial meme on Facebook

Middlesex

WESTBROOK, Conn. (WTNH) — Westbrook’s fire chief was dismissed from the fire department Monday following a Fire Board of Commissions virtual meeting regarding a controversial post he made on Facebook.

The Board took a vote and the motion passed to get Chief Michael Jenkins out.


Last week he was placed on paid administrative leave as a public works employee. The decision came after a town meeting.

The post, shared by Fire Chief Mike Jenkins to an Old Saybrook community Facebook forum, compared former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris to Forrest and Jennie from “Forrest Gump.” The meme contained crude language.

A screenshot of his post was shared many times on Facebook. Community members urged the town to take action.

“We all have first amendment rights, but first amendment rights do not cover hate speech,” said Kate Sullivan, Chair of the Westbrook Democratic Town Committee. “This was basically that.”

The town’s First Selectman, Noel Bishop, told News 8 they were also flooded with phone calls and emails about the matter. Bishop said that led them to call a Board of Selectmen meeting. He maintained they will investigate it fully.

Other people News 8 spoke to in town said the meeting and the conversation surrounding the issue was a good first step.

“In my book, I would love for us also in a community to make sure we’re building a space for the chief of the fire department to say, ‘Gosh…I’m so sorry. I made a mistake,'” said Emily Bjornberg, President of the Shoreline League of Democratic Women. “And that’s okay because all of us make mistakes. It’s not about one fire department chief, it’s about making sure our kids know what is and what’s not acceptable in terms of our public discourse.”

Ahead of the meeting, Jenkins said he had no comment.

The Board of Fire Commissioners will hold a meeting Thursday regarding his status as a fire chief.

Town officials told News 8 to refer to article two of the Board of Fire Commissioners ordinance, sections 7-34, which states:

The Board of Fire Commissioners shall have the control and management of the apparatus and property owned by the town. This apparatus and property is used for the purpose of fighting fires and rescue operations.  They shall make rules and regulations for the proper government control and discipline of a fire company or companies, have power to appoint fire police from the fire department, remove fire police, and for the town, may suspend any officer or member and after a hearing may vote to dismiss any officer or member for cause shown.  The board shall give hearings to parties making complaints and make such decisions as they deem best for the good of the department and town and such decisions shall be final.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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