Harp Lauds Way To Groom City FIrefighters

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAs she accepted the endorsement of New Haven’s black firefighters association, Toni Harp praised the group’s efforts to make sure city-dwellers—not just suburbanites—are ready for public safety jobs.

State Sen. Harp offered that praise at a Monday afternoon press conference outside the Elks Club on Webster Street in Dixwell.

She was joined there by Michael Neal and Leon Brown of the New Haven Firebirds, the city’s association of black firefighters.

Harp saluted the Firebirds for their efforts to start the Public Safety Academy, a training program to ready New Haven high school students for careers as firefighters, police officers, or EMTs.

Harp said suburban young people often have a leg up on fire jobs because they come from towns with volunteer fire departments that allow them to get involved at an early age. The public safety academy helps New Haven’s young people get the certifications that will make them more attractive candidates for police and fire jobs in the city, she said.

Neal said teens who stick with the program for four years graduate with EMT and “Firefighter One” certifications.

At the press conference, Harp also weighed in on a couple of recent fire department controversies.

Asked about recent allegations that the department has a problem with racism, Harp said that “there’s a perception that it does.” She said the way to change that perception is by putting more New Haveners into fire department jobs and having a more transparent hiring and promotions process.

Asked about the dispute between the city and the fire union over the creation of new lieutenant positions, Harp sided with the union. “I think it’s a mistake to not fill from the top down,” she said. She said the department should have a captains exam first, before creating more lieutenant slots below.

“It’s bad for morale” to have too many “acting captains,” as is required when captain positions go empty, she said. “That creates tension in the department.”

Neal agreed. He said that adding lieutenants before promoting captains is “polluting the pool.”

Asked about the recent incident in which Captain Richard Rife was arrested for displaying a gun during a firehouse argument, Harp said the situation “epitomizes the morale issue,” since the display happened during a conversation between a captain and an acting captain, Lt. Frank Ricci.

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posted by: robn on August 27, 2013  8:44am

So Harp suggest that to correct a problem of a captain wielding a gun against another captain is… more captains?!?

posted by: Ozzie on August 27, 2013  9:29am

As a person who knows several young men who took the recent firefighters test in New Haven with EMT, Firefighter One certifications along with hazmat training I’m a little surprised by Ms. Harp’s and Firefighters Neal’s comment that by having a EMT and firefighter one certification would make someone more attractive for the job. Seeing that not once during the testing process was a question asked about ones resume for applying for the job. Also during the oral interview only three questions were asked and not one had anything to do with firefighting. Just wondering ?

posted by: Razzie on August 27, 2013  10:33am

@ robn

Sorry robn, I just can’t follow your logic on how you reached your summary of the article.

posted by: robn on August 27, 2013  11:47am


To pander to firemen’s desire for promotion, Harp is presenting correlation as causation (they’re two different things).

posted by: Noteworthy on August 27, 2013  11:58am

P A N D E R I N G 1 0 1

posted by: just my view on August 27, 2013  1:08pm

??“Asked about recent allegations that the department has a problem with racism, Harp said that “there’s a perception that it does.” She said the way to change that perception is by putting more New Haveners into fire department jobs and having a more transparent hiring and promotions process.”??

So… what is she saying here - That New Haven is only made up of people of color? I’m confused.

posted by: OneCityManyDreams on August 27, 2013  1:29pm

Two Firemen. Two make 250K each last year. Thanks Senator for being part of the solution. so grateful.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 27, 2013  3:08pm

OneCityManyDreams well said!

posted by: Razzie on August 27, 2013  3:25pm

The Fire Dept has had epic morale issues since before the inception of the Ricci debacle. The vestiges of those historic problems continue to plague the intradepartmental relationships and command structure of today. Until those issues are resolved, the fire department will continue to have strained relationships. Fixing those relationships will necessarily require fixing the command structure.

“Correlation” vs “causation”: I agree they are very different. However, if we are serious about meaningful resolution of the overall problems plaguing NHFD, we have to resolve command structure deficiencies that keep getting in the way.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on August 27, 2013  11:31pm

I wish to congratulate the Firebirds for the fantastic work that you do for all the citizens of New Haven.

This group of young African American firefighters, give back so much of their time and resources to the community that they refuse to seek recognition for their service.  I’m sure this bodes well for other firemen of New Haven as well.

On behalf of all the non-Toni haters, we salute the Firebirds for your prudent judgement in supporting Toni as the next mayor of the City of New Haven.  But more importantly, we salute you for your tireless hard work and love of city.

posted by: Think About It on August 29, 2013  2:49pm

@ Ozzie:

A civil service entrance exam cannot ask direct questions pertaining to firefighting.  Due to previous lawsuits, they have been deemed “unfair” to ask.  So the questions must be simple reading, writing, or addition problem—or as New Haven has used in the past—psychological questions (i.e., do you prefer picking flowers or doing construction work?—actual question by the way). 

@Robn—firefighters are going to get promoted either way—either more Lt’s (which would be under-filling), or the past practice route of top-down promotions—your assessment makes no sense.

@justmyview—No, you’re missing the point—people that live in New Haven are not racist—LOL.

@Razzie—hit the nail on the head!  The NHFD has failed its members in providing adequate training, SOP’s, information, education, and a clear path towards promotions.  They have relied on trying to “sneak” their picks through the cracks, and if they don’t get their way, they try to toss out exams, or throw out lists early, or over-promote as in the case of under-filling in the 90’s.  It is high time the City and firefighters of all races demand structure and a clear, drawn out path to career advancement in the NHFD, this would resolve a plethora of issues—-NHI, you should investigate this if you really care about why there are so many problems with race, morale, and other issues!