Conn. firefighters call for changes, new chief

By Jesse Leavenworth
Hartford Courant

MANCHESTER, Conn. — Eighth Utilities District firefighters petitioned the agency’s board of directors Monday for sweeping changes, including appointment of a new chief, a financial audit and “the redevelopment and rebuilding of the department.”

“We, the volunteer members, want to reclaim the department and form it into the department and family it once was,” the petition, signed by 27 current and former firefighters, said. “We will no longer sit back and watch it crumble.”

Danielle Cowee, a former district firefighter, presented the petition to board President Mary O’Mara after the meeting because the board decided not to hear discussion of the issue during the meeting. The petition was signed by 17 current firefighters — out of about 80 listed members — and ten former department members, Cowee said.

A priority for the petitioning firefighters was the appointment of a separate fire chief. Acting Fire Chief Don Moore was named to that position late in 2014 after being hired earlier that year for the district’s daytime supervisor position at a starting salary of $73,000. Since the positions were combined, the petition says, “qualified chiefs and leaders have resigned, some members were forced out, member retention has declined and more paid firefighter/EMTs have been employed.”

Firefighters wanted the board to discuss the issues Monday night, but board member John Topping’s motion to add an item about the chief’s position to the agenda was defeated. O’Mara said she would accept the petition after the meeting, but she would not allow discussion of the topic, even during a catchall segment of the agenda called “good and welfare.” Cowee said firefighters will seek a special meeting to discuss the issues in the petition.

Topping, who said the petitioning firefighters approached him about their concerns, said he has “full faith and confidence” in Moore, but there’s too much work for one person. Also, Topping said after the meeting, the volunteer firefighters who make up most of the department’s roster want a separate leader. The chief’s position, he said, had been budgeted at about $38,000 a year, and there is no reason it could not be reinstated at that amount.

Moore said after the meeting that he would not object to a qualified person being appointed chief. The former Bloomfield police officer first joined the district as a volunteer firefighter in 1980, rising to deputy fire chief. Moore left district service in 2004 and returned in August 2012 as a firefighter, shortly after the district's board of directors decided not to reappoint Paul Litrico as fire chief.

Eighth District firefighters, EMTs and dispatchers answer emergency calls, primarily in the northern third of town. They rescue people from wrecked cars, douse fires and render aid to the sick and injured.

Copyright 2018 Hartford Courant

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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