The that changed the way the . The RTM passed the new laws despite pleas from the Quaker Hill Fire Company to table the decision another two months, so they can address all of their concerns.
On Wednesday, Patch interviewed the people directly related with creating the ordinances, as well as some of the other fire chiefs. All were happy with the RTM’s decision.
“My honest opinion is it’s a start,” Goshen Fire Chief Neil Wiseman said. “The fire service needs to come to the 21st century.”
John Mariano, interim fire chief at Cohanzie, agreed.
“I think it will be a good thing,” Mariano said. “It will be one source, one director of fire services. Let the fire chiefs do what they are supposed to be doing.”
At Monday’s meeting, Quaker Hill Fire Commissioner Kevin Ziolkowski, speaking for the department, specifically criticized parts of the new ordinances. First Selectman Dan Steward and J.W. “Bill” Sheehan, who helped write the ordinance, responded to each concern Wednesday.
Ziolkowski argued the chiefs should have to agree with the decisions made by the fire director. Currently, the ordinances say the fire director will make decisions with the “assistance” of the chiefs.
Steward and Sheehan both said it would be nearly impossible to get all five chiefs to agree with every decision. The fire director will use their advice, but ultimately it is up to that person to make his mind up so decisions are made, they said.
Otherwise, nothing would ever get done, Steward said.
“That is like herding cats,” he said about trying to get all five chiefs to agree.
Ziolkowski's second major concern was that the five separate companies should be able to keep their independence, especially when it comes to dealing with workers. The fire companies will keep their independence, but they cannot have total control over part-timers or even volunteers, Sheehan said.
In the old days, before OSHA laws and multi-million dollar lawsuits, that was fine, Sheehan said. But today, the town needs to conform to ensure labor laws are followed he said.
Sheehan brought up an example that happened “years ago,” when the fire companies were allowing a paid firefighter to volunteer at another company. Eventually, the state labor board said that was not OK, and the town had to give back pay to the firefighter for all the hours he worked unpaid, Sheehan said.
“Nobody does it on purpose; they do it because they don’t know,” Sheehan said. “This will ensure there are no violations of labor laws that can get the town in trouble.”
Ziolkowski's third concern was that fire chiefs should be able to send representatives to the board of fire chiefs meetings, which are six times a year. This defeats the purpose, Sheehan said.
The town wants the chief to go so the chief has full accountability for his or her actions, Sheehan said. Other volunteer boards require members to show up for meetings, and that works fine, Sheehan said.
Steward said he would work around other the chiefs’ schedules to find a date that works. It is important the chiefs go, Steward said.
“I’ll meet with them whenever it is convenient,” Steward said. “I want the chiefs to know what is going on.”
“Change can be a challenge for anybody,” Steward said, a sentiment echoed by Sheehan. The important thing is that ordinances are put in place, and then the town can adjust them if problems arise, both men said.
Better Than It Was
Everybody interviewed was happy that a change was taken place. In the short time he has been interim chief, the current board of fire commissioners has been ineffective, Mariano said.
“I’ve gone to the meetings and I was the only one there,” Mariano said. “There weren’t enough commissioners there to have quorum, so nothing can get done.”
Wiseman agreed, saying the ordinance was “absolutely” better than the way it was before.
“There needs to be a change,” Wiseman said. “(The chiefs) asked for a change. We got the change. Now we just have to work with it.”
Who Will Run The Service
The key to the service will be who is hired, said Mariano, Wiseman and Sheehan.
“It all depends on who gets in (as fire director),” Mariano said.
The board of selectmen will appoint the new director of fire services. Steward said he has not yet decided if the he will solicit applications or hire Bruce Miller, the current fire administrator, for the job.
Wiseman said the town should solicit applications.
“I hope that the town is responsible enough to create a job description and hire the best guy for the job,” he said.