The Rhode Island Department of State has responded to a complaint levied by Warwick resident Rob Cote in regards to his allegation that Warwick Fire Chief McLaughlin improperly disposed of records that document and provide context into changes of shift for Warwick firefighters.
“Please note that we take such complaints extremely seriously,” the letter of response from Kaitlynne E. Ward, Director of Director of State Archives, Library and Public Information, reads. “Please be advised that we have provided the Warwick Fire Department with formal notice of your complaint and of the possible breach of their statutory record-keeping obligations under law. Additionally, we are working on corrective action with the Warwick Fire Department, including scheduling a records management workshop to provide training on the proper care and disposition of records.”
Cote alleged during a Nov. 20 meeting of the Warwick City Council that between July 1, 2016 and May 30, 2017, McLaughlin disposed of approximately 1,391 Form 109 documents. The documents require four signatures prior to allowing a firefighter change a shift, and the firefighter must indicate a reason for changing their shift on the Form 109.
Once those documents are signed by the firefighter requesting the shift change, the firefighter taking the shift, the platoon chief and the battalion chief, they are – under authority of the Rhode Island Office of the Secretary of State Records Retention Schedule LG2, Section 2.6.4 – to be retained for four years. A violation of this law could incur a $20 to $500 penalty per document disposed of.
McLaughlin responded in November to questions regarding the Form 109 records for a Beacon article that reported Cote’s public allegation. The chief said that the fire department retains its accountability sheets, however these documents do not provide the written reason as to why the firefighter requested a change of shift, merely the fact that a shift change occurred and the firefighter who took the shift showed up for work.
Cote alleges that the documents have been purposefully not retained because they would show that firefighters have utilized the change of shift system to avoid using vacation and sick time, a charge that McLaughlin has denied.
Ward wrote in the letter that, while the Public Records Administration is responsible for administering protocols related to record retention, they do not have the authority to investigate complaints. As a result, Cote forwarded his complaint and Ward’s letter to the Rhode Island Office of Attorney General.
McLaughlin said on Wednesday afternoon that he had not yet been contacted by the Department of State in regards to the complaint, declining to comment further.