Pittsfield To Appoint Firefighter Candidate With Criminal Record
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer is recommending the city’s fire department hire a man who spent time in prison, against the wishes of some Pittsfield firefighters.Tyer says she plans to bring the appointment of Fred Conyers to the Pittsfield City Council on September 13. Conyers, she says, is ranked at the top of the civil service list and has the support of the fire chief. Conyers says he was arrested in 2003 and served three and half years in prison for cocaine possession with intent to distribute and possession of an illegal firearm. Tyer says council approval is a formality and insists she will appoint Conyers with or without its blessing.
“Fred’s story perfectly illustrates what we mean when we say that we believe in second chances,” said Tyer. “We can’t just say that we believe in that we have to take action in order to show that that is really our intention.”
Tyer held a closed press conference Tuesday with Conyers, Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski and area media to address concerns and what she calls “misstatements” about Conyers’ appointment.
“It wasn’t until we started receiving these inquiries and getting bits of misinformation that we were thrust into having this conversation which I think is very important,” Tyer said. “Because we want to reassure the public that there has been a thorough and comprehensive review of his candidacy and that we are confident going forward.”
On Monday, the president of the Pittsfield Professional Firefighters Union Local 2647 sent a memo to Tyer and city councilors saying a majority of members feel Conyers should not be appointed. The memo says Conyers’ reputation and history will affect how the public perceives him and how the union members will be received. After Tuesday’s press conference, union President Robert Leary told WAMC Conyers will be welcomed into the department as any other candidate would saying the union hopes Conyers becomes an excellent firefighter. Conyers says he is disappointed in the pushback from the community, but expected it from within the fire department.
“I don’t want them to just give me respect or think that I’m going to be a great fireman right away,” Conyers said. “I want to earn that. I want to show them that I’m serious about it and I want to be the best firefighter I can be.”
Chief Czerwinski admits there is pushback within the department, linking some of it to “mis-facts.” But, he says, there are firefighters who do support hiring Conyers. The chief says Conyers will be on a one-year probationary period like all new hires.
“I’m going to face it, not everybody loves everybody in the fire station,” Czerwinski said. “We’ve got people who could care less about other people, but when we arrive on the scene of an incident it’s a team.”
Conyers, who grew up in Pittsfield, says he was never involved with gangs and got into drug activity to make money after attending college in Boston and then Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. He says a Pittsfield fire in the early 1990s that killed three of his friends made him want to be a firefighter.
“I was actually supposed to sleep over that night,” Conyers said. “I was supposed to be there. These were my friends since we were babies. After that I’ve always wanted to pursue being a fireman. I’ve always respected the profession.”
Since getting out of prison Conyers says he worked for Unistress and a painting company that has worked at state government offices in Boston, a position that requires background checks.