Holyoke fire lieutenant demoted, suspended following internal investigation into deadly fire

Lt. Chad Cunningham has the right to appeal the decision

HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – A Holyoke Fire Department lieutenant has been demoted and suspended following an internal investigation by the Board of Fire Commissioners regarding the deadly New Years Day fire on North East Street.

Jon Lumbra, a chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, said in a statement sent to 22News that Lt. Chad Cunningham is demoted to the rank of firefighter private, has been suspended for five days without pay, and has been ordered to undergo training. Cunningham is also being transferred from Station 3 to headquarters.

Continuing Coverage: Holyoke New Year’s Day Fire 

Cunningham is accused of failing to have or maintain command of his company during an emergency and failing to follow a direct order by a superior office in connection to the North East Street fire in which three people were killed.

Lumbra said the Board of Fire Commissioners made the decision based on evidence gathered during their internal investigation, and the lack of any material submitted by Cunningham.

Lieutenant Cunningham has the right to appeal the decision and is fighting back after getting demoted.

“President of the union, in the wake of the January 1, fire questioning whether the brownout of engine 2, led to a less than full response to the fire,” Attorney Terence Coles of Pyle Rome Ehrenberg PC said.

Attorney Coles told 22News that the suspension and demotion “has to do with [Lt. Cunningham] being a very vocal president of the union, in the wake of the January 1st fire, questioning whether the brownout of Engine 2 lead to a less than full response to the fire.”

Attorney Coles also questioned one of the fire commissioners’ residency, as it would have reversed the vote. Commissioner Jon Lumbra told 22News he lives in Holyoke, but will be moving next month.

In a statement sent to 22News by the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts, President Rich MacKinnon, Jr. says Cunningham acted appropriately at the fire.

“We see this as pure retaliation against a vocal union president, and the Professional Fire Fighters of MA, and our 12,000 firefighters, along with the support of the International Association of Fire Fighters, are ready to fight this ruling,” MacKinnon said.

MacKinnon’s full statement is below:

Yesterday’s ruling by the Fire Commission against union president, Lt. Chad Cunningham, demonstrates the inside politics being played at city hall. We see this as pure retaliation against a vocal union president, and the Professional Fire Fighters of MA, and our 12,000 firefighters, along with the support of the International Association of Fire Fighters, are ready to fight this ruling. The Fire Commission members, appointed by the mayor, have no fire service knowledge or experience, and it is clear to see where their directive is coming from. After five hours of testimony, the Commission – made up of two politically appointed individuals – came back with a decision in 15 minutes. Lt. Cunningham acted appropriately at the deadly fire on Jan. 1, but has been a vocal critic of the chief and mayor due to the lack of resources within the department, which puts everyone at risk. Our goal, has and continues to be, the safety of the residents of this city, and we will continue fighting for them.