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New Fire Chief Vows To Boost Morale

by Paul Bass | Mar 24, 2014 8:42 am

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

Posted to: Legal Writes

Contributed Photo Mayor Toni Harp is bringing a top officer back from retirement to take over the troubled fire department.

Harp has chosen Allyn R. Wright (pictured) to succeed Michael Grant as the city’s fire chief.

“I’ve got a lot on my plate that I have to address. I know I can do it. I’ve definitely got to bring back the morale,” Wright said in a conversation Sunday. “I want to make it better.”

Grant’s last day on the job is this coming Friday. Wright starts on March 31, according to Mayor Toni Harp.

Thomas MacMillan Photo Grant has served as chief since 2003. Reached Sunday, Grant (pictured) declined comment.

“I hold Chief Grant in high esteem. I just thought it was time for the fire department to go in another direction,” Harp said Sunday. “I thought that former Assistant Chief Wright could really pull the department together, build the morale up, and is a proven leader who moved up through the ranks. He had almost every position in the department. I think he can take the department to the next level.”

Wright, who is 63 years old and a graduate of the Hillhouse High School class of 1969, takes over a department that for years has wrestled with racial controversies, understaffing, and costly discipline problems. He retired as assistant fire chief more than a dozen years ago. He has worked as a security consultant as well as a private investigator licensed in New York State. During his time in the New Haven fire department, he served in internal affairs and ran the arson unit, among other duties.

Wright begins work at the end of the month. He said his salary is still being negotiated.

In returning to the department, Wright said, he intends both to address existing problems and to initiate new programs.

He plans to revive a fire cadet program in high schools and team up with the boy scouts on youth initiatives, he said. “I want to get more involved in community, with kids, after-school programs,” he said. “I want to bring back an EMS supervisor. I want to bring back a director of community relations and public fire education.” He also vowed to fix up the firehouses.

Wright’s son Damien is a firefighter assigned to Truck 2 at the Howard Avenue firehouse. His nephew, also named Allyn Wright, is a beat cop covering the West Hills/West Rock area.

Wright’s fire-chief appointment won praise Sunday from Frank Ricci, vice-president of the fire union as well as the named plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case against the city over department promotions.

New Haven Fire Lt. Gary Tinney,  who serves as vice-president of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF)‘s regional chapter, which represents some 1,500 members in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, called Wright’s appointment “a morale-builder.”

“He’s well-liked and well-respected by the men and women of the department,” Tinney said Sunday. ” When he was assistant chief here he was able to do a lot of things around community service and youth programs. I think we’ve lost sight of that. It’s important the community sees us, not only at emergency scenes.”

Click here to read more about Wright’s appointment in a New Haven Register story by Rich Scinto, who first reported the news.

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posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on March 23, 2014  9:05pm

The appointment raises a number of questions:

1. How is it that someone who retired more than 12 years ago, and has been away from training and the dept, is the best candidate for the job? It doesn’t say much about the other candidates that were in the running?

2. Was the corporation counsel consulted prior to the appointment being made? The non-black candidates that were passed over for this position, and many others, will argue that race played a role in the final decision.

3. Now that he is back on the payroll will he receive his pension AND an annual salary?

4. When he leaves this position as chief, what happens to his pension - does it get bumped up to the Chief’s level - even if he works in that capacity for only a year or two?

posted by: wendy1 on March 24, 2014  8:13am

Allyn and I were next door neighbors for years at Orange St.  He is bright and interesting with quite the resume.  Thanks to him I found the perfect NH mechanic and Lojack for my jeep and also voted for DeStefano the first time he ran over 20 yrs. ago.  Welcome back Allyn.  I will visit you because I live 1 block away from the stationhouse

posted by: Ozzie on March 24, 2014  8:42am

New Haven Taxpayer might be right, how can a person who has been retired for twelve years be the best canidate for the job. Police Officers lose their certification after three years. Is this a political payback ? Did the Mayor research her new appointee’s past like she did her last appointee to the prisoner re-entry position ?  Why would a person retire at such a young age in the first place, was it alledged misconduct on his part ? Maybe Mr. Bass could research this and let all know.

posted by: darnell on March 24, 2014  9:01am

@Noteworthy
No, not because he is Black, but because he is well liked and respected by everyone who knows him. Why is it that once a Black is hired, his qualifications are automatically questioned?  Would you have asked the same question if he were NOT Black?

@NewHavenTaxTooHigh
So, since he is Black, we are to assume that other more qualified non black candidates were “passed over” because of “discrimination”? That “race” played a role? The mayor, whomever he or she may be, is able to appoint the person they believe are best qualified. I bet when Chief Grant was appointed, or better yet, Assistant Chief Egan (who I like and respect), you and Noteworthy didn’t post the sort of questions you are now posting.

Unfortunately, since the Bakke reverse discrimination case many years ago, folks like you have found it easier and easier to publicly insinuate that all Blacks are somehow less qualified or promoted due to reverse discrimination. The election of Obama and the Ricci decision has moved these comments/claims from the whispers made in your country club locker rooms to public postings on the internet. An God forbid someone like me should question your motivations, now somehow I am labeled as the racists.

Interesting world we now live in, 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, 60 years after Brown vs the Board of Education, and 151 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, somehow Blacks have become the ruling class. Interesting indeed.

posted by: alex on March 24, 2014  10:02am

Hear, Hear darnell. The comments above yours are really ugly. Mr. Wright seems incredibly qualified and received compliments from all over the department to boot. Good luck to him!

[Editor: Darnell was responding in part to a comment that was posted and subsequently deleted.]

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on March 24, 2014  1:02pm

To become a Chief, or a Mayor, of any city of New Haven’s size, or of the size and complexity of say, the NHPD or NHFD, is not something that is pursued lightly. To accept that responsibility, ignoring all the issues that other’s would try to place as a priority in qualifications for those individuals that seek and accept these positions, is to diminish the nature of their character, and the real commitment they have to New Haven, the people of New Haven, their coworkers and work force.

Michael Grant is and has been a remarkable Chief. As a person, his character is beyond reproach.

Funny thing is, I can say the same about Allyn, and as in many departments their are always numerous individuals that would make excellent candidates for chief. But sadly that has never been the nature of these organizations.

So now the question to be answered is if those that are within the FD, that are just as qualified, or maybe feel they are more qualified, will they be able to maintain the quality of their efforts and commitment to their department? It is easy to feign cooperation, but without true commitment to that chief by those in the command structure just below him, it will be difficult for him to do the best he can for his people in the department, and the people of New Haven.

Good Luck and Good Health to all the members of the New Haven Fire Department; God Bless You Mike, thank you can only be a small acknowledgement of the life you committed to the department; Allyn, again congratulations, and you do have many supporters in and out of the department that know this is a good for the department.

Hope to see all you Heroes at the Hockey Game.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on March 24, 2014  1:04pm

Alex: Not sure what you are referring to, but none of my comments are ‘ugly’ or hate-filled, hate-inspired.

Darnell: You jump straight to playing the race card. You should read the post carefully before typing:

I’m saying because he is retired 12 years, it is reasonable to think that there must be more qualified candidates who are already active….that’s not a stretch of logic. After all, technology changes, protocols change, personnel change, vehicles and apparatus change, new structures are built ...

By bringing in someone retired you are going to upset candidates that are still on the department and raise the question as to why you bring back someone who has been away from fire duty for 12 years. In this case, the person hired is black so the non-black fireman will say race was involved..and they will easily find an attorney to take that case. But, if he were white, the non-white fireman would say that race was involved and they would easily find an attorney to make that argument.

So, Darnell, it’s not because Wright is black. It’s because Wright is retired and away from the job for 12 years that his appointment comes into question…and the question is this…

Why did you hire a retiree who has been away from firefighting for at least 12 years during which time technology has changed, protocols have changed, personnel has changed, vehicles and apparatus has changed, and new structures like 360 State have been built?

Supporters like Darnell need to answer that question bc skeptics will point to race, and not bc he is black.

Two final points.

1) How does hiring someone who’s retired 12 years boost morale? It tells the existing firefighters that they simply aren’t good enough.

2) For the 100th time - the city needs to outsource all the testing and appointments to an independent professional organization and remove itself from the politics and legal liability associated with the management/mis-management of the fire department.

posted by: robn on March 24, 2014  1:45pm

The answer to me is very simple; Mayor Harp wanted to make an AA appointment and found someone she felt was qualified for the job. Whether those feelings are justified is probably more worthy of attention, but I think the race question is fair game because it opens the door to the more significant question of quals and because (see footnote below).

Footnote: ...because the appointment is made in a department where racial tensions have led to a supreme court appearance, and because the appointment was made just after a mayoral election was held with supporters of our new mayor making it a point to tout her gender and race as significant, and because new hire is well out of the game and current ranks, and because this person is the first (I think????) AA Chief of NHFD.

[Editor: Wright is not the first African-American fire chief.]

posted by: alex on March 24, 2014  2:21pm

NewHavenTaxTooHigh,

The article states:

“He has worked as a security consultant as well as a private investigator licensed in New York State.”

You call him a “retiree,” but do you know what he’s actually been up to for the last 12 years? Are you just assuming that he hasn’t worked at all in the last 12 years? Or that his work had nothing to do with his training as a firefighter?

Also, comments like this are questionable, in my opinion:

“The non-black candidates that were passed over for this position, and many others, will argue that race played a role in the final decision.”

This comment takes an argument that is patently racist, and puts it in the mouth of a hypothetical “non-black candidate.” The non-black candidates “will” say this, apparently, even though no one has said anything like that in the article above. In fact, Ricci himself praised the decision.

If you claim to speak FOR these “non-black candidates,” you should be accountable for the words you put in their mouth.

You can claim that you’re just neutrally talking about what people “will” say, but in my opinion that fails to take responsibility about what YOU are saying. I am not trying to call you a racist, but I do think the comment is ugly.

posted by: darnell on March 24, 2014  2:36pm

@NewHavenTaxTooHigh:

Your comments might carry more weight if you and those like you made the same comments when a white applicant were hired. I didn’t see any of you question the qualifications of Doug Hausladen (who I consider a friend and who I very much like) when he was hired, despite the fact that he did not have 1 minute of experience in a Traffic and Parking office. Or how about Andrew Wolf, who has been away from New Haven longer than you have been out of high school. Or how about Pat Egan, former head of the fire union who jump several ranks to be appointed the Deputy Fire Chief. I didn’t see you calling for the outsourcing of hiring when those appointments were made.

Heck, I didn’t see any of that when the former mayor hired department heads straight out of college (Yale). So what is the difference now?

It was you who stated in this comment section “The non-black candidates that were passed over for this position, and many others, will argue that race played a role in the final decision….Supporters like Darnell need to answer that question bc skeptics will point to race, and not bc he is black.”

And yet, you now point at me and say that I’m playing the race card?

Every time a Black is hired there has to be an additional level of explanation of their qualifications? The mayor has to prove that she is not discriminating against non whites when she makes an appointment of someone non white?

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on March 24, 2014  3:33pm

Brilliant move Mayor Harp.

This move, yes will make some unhappy in the department.  However, many were vehemently unhappy in the department before this move.

To install Mr. Wright as chief after many years removed, makes tremendous sense. 1. He’s home grown. 2. He’s well respected in all circles. 3. He doesn’t play sides he plays fair.  4. He’s extremely smart.

@Ozzie,

“New Haven Taxpayer might be right, how can a person who has been retired for twelve years be the best canidate for the job.” If you knew the character of the man, that question would never have been asked. 

So on this move, I give the mayor an A.

posted by: Noteworthy on March 24, 2014  3:34pm

If you’re going to delete my short comment, then don’t allow people to discuss it.

@Darnell - Your comments are disingenuous. You have a department racked by racial tension between the members; lawsuits costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to defend and settle; and endless moaning over things as puny as a flag on a bookcase with a history of patriotism now turned on its race based head. You don’t like the race question but then celebrate the black ruling class. That’s just lame.

posted by: darnell on March 24, 2014  9:44pm

@Noteworthy, you and I usually agree 99% of the time here, on this issue we clearly are light years apart, I think. The reason why I don’t know for sure is because I don’t understand what point you were trying to make.

My comments are “disingenuous”? Why so? So there is some racial tension in the Fire Department ranks,there always has been, it wasn’t invented by Black firemen. The Italians didn’t like the Irish; the Irish didn’t like the Blacks; the Blacks feel displaced by the Latinos.

No, I don’t like the race question, because I never asked it or brought it up myself. But if you like it so much, why don’t you tell us why you didn’t challenge the appointments of white candidates like Matt Nemerson, Doug H, Pat Egan, or Andrew Wolf. Or better yet, why don’t you name a non white appointment you did support.

I don’t celebrate the black ruling class, particularly since I don’t belong to that class. And, if there is such a thing, exactly who are they and who do they rule?

And by the way, it was a white mayor and administration, along with a white civil service board and fire commission, that canceled the results of a test that was then challenged by white firemen, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. So, if you want to lay the blame somewhere, don’t lay it at the foot of the Black firemen, who were discriminated against for decades.

That, my friend, is the definition of lame.

posted by: member on March 24, 2014  10:29pm

I feel the need to respond. First off this is a mayoral appointment, and after the charter change has to be approved by the Board of Alders, which I will stake my career on is going to be approved by every Alder. This is not some sort of tested position where someone could “Get a lawyer” as one said. Again it is the Mayors decision who SHE chooses, her sole choice. I am a “White” member of the department (not that has any meaning or significance)but for those here who do care to bring race into it, I will tell you you’d be pretty hard pressed to find anyone on the department that knows or has worked with Chief Wright, who is not in support of his appointment as our chief. As a commanding officer on the department, I am witness to the overwhelming support for his appointment. Chief Wright I can tell you has ALREADY raised the moral of the department with just the word he is proceeding another great leader. The moral wasn’t lowered by anyone in the fire service it was lowered by others outside our department, long ago. About a year ago there was talk in the firehouses of Chief Wright maybe coming back after Chief Grant’s retirement and I for one hoped for nothing else. I will tell you what kind of man he is. We lost a good man to cancer recently and a week before he passed some of us took a charter bus to see him in a cancer hospital in Philly and when we got on that bus Chief Wright was already in a seat, to me that is a good man, who cares about his firefighters. In closing I’d like to say congratulations to Chief Grant on his retirement and to chief Wright, welcome back and your firfighters are prepared to serve at the pleasure of our chief. Lieutenant Gary W. Cole

posted by: JustTheFacts on March 25, 2014  1:53am

A few things to clear up the discussion:

It is common in many areas for retirees to be brought back in the capacity of a Chief in the fire service. It is position traditionally less tactical, and more to the extent of a CEO of a Corporation

His pension will be “suspended” until he has re-retired.

Only until the past elections were fire chiefs in New Haven allowed to be considered from outside the NHFD, yet still a residency requirement exists. NHFD salary to cost of living will not pay enough to “lure” many candidates in

Just stop playing the race card in general, it’s exhausting. This includes the Firebirds and everyone, all. It shouldn’t be the “black community” the ” Hispanic community and the “white community” It’s just called “the community” No one is special, no one is unique, and no one cares that you have a racial opinion. Earn on merit, be judged on your character and actions, and learn to take critcism. Otherwise seek therapy.

In terms of morale; going outside the active members of the NHFD is best.

Chief Wright is the right man for the job. The respect he commands from his previous service, his demeanor, and the work he had done since retirement are just a short list of why.

posted by: robn on March 25, 2014  7:14am

Well GCs comments say a lot. I’m looking forward to a NHFD that’s focussed on one one color only; the orangy glow of burning buildings.

posted by: UNH Grad on March 25, 2014  8:40am

I don’t know Chief Wright from Adam, but if he’s going to do what he says in this article, how can anyone really be so fired up against him?

I must say, its rather comical how critical everyone is of his coming back after a 12+ year hiatus.  Such short memories some of you must have.

Why is it comical?  Because when the Police Department wanted to bring in a former Assistant Chief who was interested in getting the community involved and engaged in his department’s activities, he was championed as the returning hero.  Nobody paid any attention to the fact that Chief Esserman was NEVER a Police Officer, he went from lawyer to Academy Recruit to Assistant Chief.  Sure, he bounced around a few other communities being a Police Chief, but he never had any line experience as a Law Enforcement Officer.  Despite all that, it seems to me that many of people in New Haven are relatively happy with the job he’s doing.

I don’t know Chief Grant either, but everyone I know in NHFD respects him and his accomplishments.  I for one wish him luck.  I’m not a big fan of Mayor Harp, but obviously she wanted a change and she’s entitled to make any qualified nomination that she chooses.  We’ll see what the Board of Alderman says, but I don’t see why Chief Wright doesn’t deserve the same fair shake that Chief Esserman received…

posted by: member on March 25, 2014  8:41am

Have to clarify for JustTheFacts. Until the recent charter change the requirements for a Fire Department Chief were (and I’m not sure they changed it to be honest) “You have to Have Or Have Had 5 years of time protecting the city from fire” which basically means you can be a current member or past member with 5 years on our department. This has been done in the past with the return of Chief Martin O’Conner.

posted by: ohnonotagain on March 25, 2014  6:54pm

This comment I am about to make has nothing to do with the new chief. Inside talk says that Mayor Harp showed total disrespect for Chief Grant by asking him to reapply for his position as chief. How do you do such a thing to a man that has given most of his life to fire fighting? If she didn’t want him serving as chief any longer she should have privately met with him and treated him with deep respect and hold him in high regard in the public eye and privately.

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