Where’s The Fire Marshal?

Thomas MacMillan Photo

The city hasn’t had a fire marshal in over two years. Now it has something else: a lawsuit.

The city firefighters union is suing the city for not promoting a permanent fire marshal since former marshal Joe Cappucci retired in July 2011.

“Chief [Michael] Grant is breaking the law and he should be held accountable,” said Jimmy Kottage, head of the firefighters union.

Paul Bass File PhotoAfter Capucci stepped down, Deputy Fire Marshal Faustino Lopez was appointed acting fire marshal. He held the position until the end of July of this year, when he asked to be relieved of the responsibility, according to the union’s lawsuit.

It’s a violation of Connecticut General Statute 29-297 to have an acting, non-permanent fire marshal for more than 180 days, according to the lawsuit.

“Technically there’s no fire marshal at the moment,” Kottage said. “Now they’re just breaking the law by not having someone in that capacity.”

Chief Grant said the city does have a fire marshal. In fact, the city has several, he said.

“Currently, there are three individuals in the New Haven fire department fire marshal’s office who have State of Connecticut fire marshal certification,” Grant said. “Historically, in the absence of the fire marshal and deputy fire marshal, the life safety compliance officer has assumed responsibilities of the Fire Marshal as is now the case.”  

Without leadership in the marshal’s office, required inspections are not being done, Kottage said.

The fire marshal’s office is responsible for inspecting buildings and vehicles to ensure they’re safe, and determining the cause of fires.

“They’re not following the law. It’s reckless,” Kottage said.

Last week, the city promoted six firefighters to be fire inspectors in the marshal’s office. Previously, the marshal’s office had only four staffers.

“The City of New Haven has a steadfast and unwavering commitment to fire safety, having promoted six firefighters just last week to address vacancies in the Fire Marshal’s Office,” city Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden stated in an email. ‘Moreover, the City expects to continue strengthening that office and its capacity. The lawsuit will be addressed at the appropriate time.

“We want them to test immediately or as soon as possible for a fire marshal,” said Kottage.

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posted by: downtown dweller on September 3, 2013  6:13pm

The firefighters are not suing us because we are doing anything dangerous.  They are not suing us because we are not already paying them enough.  They are suing us because, they claim, we are “technically” in violation of a law, and they see this as another chance to get money out of us.  Let’s privatize these clowns and be done with this perpetual nonsense.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on September 3, 2013  6:26pm

Wow, James Kottage is giving Lou Cavaliere Jr. a run for the money in the contest to see who can be the most tone-deaf union leader imaginable.

Why are we paying these clowns six figures, insanely lavish benefits, and retirement packages beyond belief? Clearly they have no respect for New Haven taxpayers.

Besides voting against Harp, what else can we do to put an end to this expensive joke that’s being played out against us?

posted by: Elm City Lifer on September 3, 2013  8:11pm

According to the article linked below it seems that the fire union president kottage is part to blame for the problems in the firefighter marshalls office and department.he says he wants promotions,sues to stop promotions,loses the lawsuits but other fireman dont get promoted because of the delay.he seems more part of the problem than the solution.does he do this stuff just to stop everything so overtime stays high.


posted by: Dwightstreeter on September 3, 2013  9:01pm

Something is terribly wrong in the relationship between the Mayor’s office and the Fire Dept.
Do these people really only communicate via a law suit?
Would Charlie Pillsbury please offer his services to these people?
The animosity has to stop.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on September 3, 2013  10:10pm

Outsource the NHFD and save the taxpayers money and tons of aggravation

posted by: HhE on September 4, 2013  8:12am

May be the city ought to hire a lawyer just to deal with the NHFD’s constant use of the courts.  It is a full time job after all.

posted by: UNH Grad on September 4, 2013  9:05am


Before you call for the Fire Department to be outsourced, do a little research into Rye Brook, NY’s experiment with outsourcing, they hired a contract firefighting service called Rural Metro, they’re big in Arizona.

Spoiler alert:  It failed miserably.  As in “1 million dollar home burned to the ground because there weren’t enough firefighters to respond” miserably.  And that was BEFORE the Westchester County DA threatened to prosecute the “Chief” of this contract department for arson after he held live fire training in an abandoned structure without permission.  Needless to say, Rural-Metro got out of the fire business in Westchester County.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 4, 2013  4:47pm

The unions of the NHFD should be declared a public nuisance. They gnaw through relationships and chew on taxpayers and do lots of damage. Call in a fire department management expert and re-org the hell out of this mess and turn it into something that reflects our needs and our budget. These unions are toxic.

posted by: Rivertostate on September 4, 2013  8:50pm

A challenge to all of those in favor of privatization of Fire Service in the city….

Find one comparable model of a privatized fire department. And by comparable I mean size, population, construction type, target hazards, and services provided.  And please share with the rest of us.

Don’t you think that if this privatization was sooooo great you would see municipalities all over the country doing it? Lemme guess, it’s the big bad unions fault.

Bottom line is no matter how much you whine about it, a municipality has a responsibility to its citizens and visitors. And whether you like it or not public safety and education are at the top of that list.

By the way, firefighters saved 2 people from a house fire last week, extinguished a basement fire today, and saved a commercial building on Monday. What makes me laugh is that the Pendleton St fire article has 1 comment… Yup 1… Ya’ll got nothing to say then.. Typical… You don’t appreciate the NHFD until you NEED the NHFD.

As far as the fire marshal position… Curse that evil union for trying to ensure a state mandated (and budgeted) life safety and inspection position be filled.. How dare they!!!!

posted by: SalCindependent on September 5, 2013  1:10am

here is the problem

posted by: downtown dweller on September 6, 2013  4:06am

@ rivertostate

The only whining we taxpayers see anywhere . . . is from the union.

If this really is a terrible danger to our city—which most members of the NHFD don’t live in—why didn’t the NHFD sue us back at the beginning of 2012, when the 180-day clock expired?  Wouldn’t that have been the responsible thing to do, if this law is so vital to our (not your) safety?  Let’s see . . . you didn’t sue us then.  So we can assume that the timing of this latest litigation has nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with your contract negotiations with the new mayor.

And do us a favor and cut out the “education” malarkey.  We taxpayers and voters of New Haven are plenty smart.  We can educate ourselves about what kind of fire service we want.  We don’t need out-of-towners like the NHFD leadership telling us that we need to spend our money on services that make NHFD members rich . . . when most NHFD members don’t even live here.  If you NHFD members did live here, you might be less keen on suing us for more cash, because you’d lose out with every lawsuit.  So yeah—let’s privatize the fire service and see whether the world falls apart, as you say.  If you’re living out of town, it won’t hurt you!  You’re exactly right: We don’t appreciate the NHFD, and for good reason.