Mayor James Fiorentini said fire Chief Richard Borden is working with him to change rules at the Fire Department that will increase accountability in the wake of several public embarrassments for the department.

Borden has agreed to sign off on all requests for special leave time, which allows a firefighter to take extended time off as long as other firefighters cover his shifts for him.

The practice led to firefighter Kevin Thompson's ability to spend four months in a Rockingham County jail in New Hampshire without his superiors' knowledge.

Fiorentini said he and Borden met on Monday morning to discuss the policies and procedures of the fire department, and said Borden "has already taken a number of steps" to improve management of the department.

That management was called into question in a report by police Chief Alan DeNaro and given to the mayor last week.

Fiorentini said he plans to talk with DeNaro about his conclusions.

While the chief's signature will serve as an important first step in monitoring his staff, the firefighters contract dictates that neither the city nor the chief can deny leave time without making a valid case.

"We know we're in for a battle," said Fiorentini. "The contract limits us."

The mayor added he's planning to speak with police chief Alan DeNaro in the near future since the chief of police wasn't available to meet on Monday.

Besides the ongoing investigation into Thompson's sick time abuse, the city awaits the decision of Hearing Officer David Grunebaum on the effective punishment of Jeffery Given, the city firefighter who led a scheme to forge EMT recertification among dozens of Haverhill's firefighters.

Grunebaum has given the city until Aug. 30 to submit legal briefs for his consideration. Grunebaum will then file a report with his recommendations. The mayor will then have up to one week thereafter to give his own ruling which could range from additional unpaid leave to termination.

The city has also recently posted a bid for an audit of the department that will result a complete examination of the department's policies and procedures. Currently a Sept. 9 deadline is set for proposals.

The bid outlines twenty two exact points within the department that the city believes need examination. Some controversial points include the possibility of removing the fire chief's position from civil service, the use of firefighters as civilian dispatchers and services with "outsourcing potential".

The city expects to pay around $25,000 for the audit.

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