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Fire Chief Seeks New Uniforms, Firehouses

by Thomas MacMillan | Jul 24, 2014 6:56 am

(9) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall

New Fire Chief Allyn Wright vows to provide all his firefighters with fresh uniforms, bring green energy to the department, and repair each of the city’s 10 firehouses—just as former Mayor John DeStefano did with the city’s schools.

Wright laid out those intentions in a City Hall interview following his official swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday afternoon.

Wright has been acting fire chief for several months now. Wednesday’s event—which featured drums and bagpipes and dozens of the chief’s colleagues, family and friends—made it official.

In remarks from the podium in the Aldermanic Chamber, Wright promised to support the department’s leadership and rank-and-file firefighters. He also acknowledged recent tensions in the department, which have fallen along racial lines.

“I have very little patience for office politics, rival factions, or cliques,” said Wright, who is African-American and whose appointment enjoyed support from firefighters of all races. He promised to turn over a new leaf in the department, which he said needs improvement in many areas. “Together we will achieve great things,” he said. “Change is coming.”

Asked after the ceremony about his efforts to improve morale, Chief Wright said he’d like to see firefighters take part in more extra-curricular activities together, like ballgames and shopping trips. (Click the video to hear him.)

Wright said that the department needs to make sure all firefighters have complete “Class A” uniforms, and fully repaired firehouses to work in. Both of those initiatives would improve morale as well, he said.

“I want to fix up these firehouses. They’re in need of repair,” Wright said. “They haven’t been fixed in about 30 years, and they’re at the point where they’re starting to fall down. It’s almost the same way the schools were, give or take a few years ago, when Dr. [Reggie] Mayo came about and had a program with Mayor DeStefano to try to either rebuild or renovate the schools, and that’s what I’m looking to do to all 10 firehouses.” (He said he didn’t yet have a cost estimate for the job.)

Wright also said he’d like to make the fire department “greener,” by installing solar panels on the firehouses.

Asked about another top challenge—understaffing—Wright said he’s proud to have a class of 45 trainees in the academy right now. The red-shirted rookies (pictured) lined the chamber during the ceremony.

Wright said the department has about 122 vacancies currently. He said he hopes to seat another class in the fall.

Fire union President Jimmy Kottage said the chief’s plans sound fine, but may be impossible, given current contract disagreements and tight budgets.

The chief won’t be able to seat a new class until the city and the union resolve a dispute about the relative weighting of the oral and written components of promotional exams, Kottage said. Since only about 60 of the vacant slots in the department are for rookie firefighters, it needs to make promotions to open more slots up. But it can’t do that until the conflict is resolved.

Kottage agreed that the fire stations need repair. “The firehouses are disgusting,” he said. Roofs are leaking; mold is growing; toilets don’t work.

On new uniforms, Kottage said, “I think that’ll be great. But they need to open up the pocketbook and pay.” Firefighters have been asking for new hats for some time, he said.

Solar panels are not the first thing the department needs, Kottage said. It needs more supervisors first.

When it comes to morale, Kottage said, the most important thing is that the chief needs to follow through on what he promises. If he doesn’t, morale will sink even lower, Kottage said.

“I look forward to working with Chief Wright and accomplishing things,” Kottage said. “But he has an awful lot on his plate and he needs to come through on some of the promises he’s making.”

“Worth Celebrating”

Featured speakers at Wednesday’s ceremony included Dr. Henry Lee (pictured), the forensics expert, who said he used to work with Wright when Wright was on the arson squad. He said Wright is know as a “people” person, and always says hello to everyone.

Judge Lubbie Harper (pictured) said he remembers Wright as a “youngster following me around in Newhallville.” He praised Wright as a man of “keen intellect” as well as strength, kindness, compassion, dignity, spirituality, vision, and honor.

The city fire department is beginning a new chapter,” said Mayor Toni Harp (pictured). “His promotion is well-earned and well-deserved and worth celebrating.”

After the ceremony, Wright posed for countless photographs with family and well-wishers, and joked with firefighter Ray Saracco (pictured).

 

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posted by: Wooster Squared on July 24, 2014  8:45am

As long as we’re making ridiculous requests, I’d like a pony.

Why aren’t we talking about consolidating the number of firehouses and running the department more effectively? For a City our size, we’ve got too many firehouses and we’re paying far too much for fire service.

I await the typical scare tactics used by the NHFD to try argue against any meaningful reform or improvement to the department.

posted by: cupojoe on July 24, 2014  9:11am

Maybe we can first try and get our public libraries open during the summer? I can’t believe they’ve ALL been closed on Saturdays…

posted by: David Backeberg on July 24, 2014  11:09am

Congrats to the new chief. One thing I will say the department does well: community relations. They are always kind to my children when we visit the firehouse to vote, and always wave back when we wave to them when they are out in the trucks. Thanks everybody.

posted by: Ozzie on July 24, 2014  1:21pm

Its great that there are new trainees in the Fire academy. Were their names ever published so we could see who is related to whom.  The last people I talked to nobody knew how far down the testing list the City had gone and where the remaining people on the list stood as far as having a chance at being hired. Its can’t be that everyone passed the agility and back round checks. Can anybody answer these questions ?

posted by: JayC on July 24, 2014  1:29pm

Was it reasonable for Mayor Harp to appoint a man who has not been been involved in fire fighting in over 14 years (he retired in 2000!)  to head our city’s Fire Department?

posted by: Noteworthy on July 24, 2014  2:27pm

Wright Priorities Notes:

1. Wright may be the right guy for the job, but he’s already got the wrong priorities.

2. We don’t need GREEN firehouses. Green means money, and it never pays off - not in the schools, not in the homes, nowhere. Install some energy efficient lightbulbs and call it a day.

3. New uniforms? Why? Morale? A uniform does not morale make - solid leadership, solid priorities and best practices upon which they drill and deliver. Good HR practices.

4. We absolutely do not need to rebuild all the fire houses - what was done with school construction is just shy of criminal. The school footprint was doubled, tripled and quadrupled with no extra capacity for students and the educational practices remained the same with the same results. There was no master plan for rebuilding the schools - it was just willy nilly and it is the single biggest expenditure that has more than doubled the city’s debt and debt service. 

5. Wright should focus on three things: Managing risk and expensive union litigation and settlements; having the fire department do more than roll a fire truck to a medical call and then turn it over to private ambulance services; and order, oversee a workforce utilization study that will determine how many fire houses we really need and what level of force is required for a city our size.

6. According to many national standards, we are overstaffed and over-budgeted when compared to other cities our size. The FRAC report done by an outside consultant told DeStefano some five years ago that we had too many fire houses.

7. Some 85% or more of fire department calls are for medical reasons, not fires. Rolling non-transport fire trucks to such calls is a waste of money and it costs taxpayers excessive fees to AMR, HUNTER and the Town of Branford. Our own people and equipment ought to be doing this and billing the insurance departments. AMR bills $620/call - base rate. That’s as outrageous as showing up with 4 guys/truck/driving back.

posted by: webblog on July 24, 2014  5:06pm

After a fourteen year hiatus Wright appears to not have lost a step in the Destefano 300 option playbook.

Rather than look at new uniforms, which only he wears every day, and a firehouse rebuild, which the department has had the option to repair for years, but instead has chosen over the years, including this 2013/2014 FY to:

Allocate bond fund spending for items such as:

1. Outfit fire apparatus and vehicle fleet $1,100,000

2. replace firefighter protective equipment, $250,000

3. Replace firefighter safety equipment $100,000.

4. Replace emergency medical equipment $50,000.

Bonding $1.6M for less than 50 fires a year.

All firehouse roofs could have been replaced twice over.

Wright would be better advised served to focus on:
1. filling the current 100 budgeted vacant positions,

2.reducing his 6.7M overtime budget, which is currently, 1.5M over budget,
3. Influence the Mayor to force a change within the civil service commision, and especially, the Board of Fire Commissioner’s, who together, with the Corp Counsel, have caused the city taxpayers over 8M due to their poor litigation decisions.

posted by: The Realist on July 24, 2014  6:57pm

Horray!!  More spending by the city so I can pay more property taxes!!  I am so glad that the new fire chief is looking to beautify the fire dept buildings and the personnel with new pretty uniforms.  I think this is an excellent use of taxpayer money.  Heaven forbid that we try to improve the services of the city at lower costs rather than making them look better for the annual St. Patrick’s day parade.   

Wright - get your priorities straight.  Do your job.  We need solid fire protection at a lower price.  We do not need pretty fire dept officials and pretty firehouses.

posted by: UseCommonSense on July 24, 2014  9:18pm

@noteworthy

You’re on the right track for the most part. “Green” won’t help much; it is good for PR but that’s about it.

The school construction was overboard but simple firehouse repairs are needed.

A few more years and a few may not be salvageable. It’s better to invest a little now than a lot later. The mold, leaky roofs (interior gutters are frowned upon by OSHA) lack of HVAC, are just the tip of the problems faced. Many of the firehouses were designed by Yale to be architecturally pleasing in 60’s but are not functional as firehouses. Repairs have been neglected for years due to funds.

The AMR idea as neat as it sounds is not overly feasible. Appx 1/4 of the current 911 calls are responded with only an ambulance. AMR covers from Milford to Hamden, are understaffed, overworked and underpaid; that won’t change. With that you get prolonged response times. Doing CPR for 20 minutes onscene in New Haven is more common than it should be. Hence why NHFD acts as first responder to all critical calls as triaged by the 911 center.

A better solution would be to increase Paramedic staffing for the NHFD; but I suppose politics and certain groups would frown upon that because education, drive and preparation were frowned upon in the hiring process but you’re rewarded for your zip code, connections and ability to check special boxes on an application. The city would rather maintain a status quo and award some for political favor (research Mr. Briscoe) rather than make actual sensible progress and stride. The majority of NHFD members want to work hard, make a difference in improving the city and just want the city to “get things right” now let’s hope the new Chief will stick to his guns and avoid the politics and the pull of special & individual interests.

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