The Day – East Lyme First Selectman is seeking a professional to improve supervision of the volunteer fire departments
East Lyme – First Selectman Mark Nickerson calls for changes to fire regulations in a city where two fire officers have been arrested in recent years.
Nickerson told The Day this week that hiring a fire department administrator reporting to the Board of Selectmen would provide “oversight and accountability” to the two volunteer fire department chiefs. It’s an idea he first proposed in November when the Selectmen decided instead to form a subcommittee to look more closely at the oversight issue.
The subcommittee is reviewing a 2017 fire study and receiving input from the Flanders and Niantic fire departments.
Nickerson said his decision to propose a position as fire supervisor was “unrelated” to the election of Chris Taylor, head of the Flemish fire department, in October.
Taylor was previously a city employee for 15 years, assistant firefighter for 14 years, and then firefighter. He resigned in October 2019 – three weeks before he was arrested by Connecticut State Police, which claimed he stole more than $ 13,000 from the New London County Fire Marshal’s Association.
Nickerson said the proposal is part of an ongoing effort to professionalize the city’s fire service.
According to Nickerson, East Lyme’s two independent fire departments operate separately from the city, and their volunteer chiefs don’t report to the selectmen. Both departments include a combination of paid and volunteer firefighters.
There are a total of nine full-time paid firefighters, Nickerson said. They report directly to the First Selectman on a daily basis, while the fire chiefs maintain operational control of both paid and volunteer firefighters at the scene of the fire.
He cited a growing population as driving the proposed position, as well as rising costs in terms of salary, equipment, liability issues, and state and federal requirements.
“That’s why there has to be professionalism,” he said.
An administrator overseeing the chiefs and reporting to the Board of Selectmen “would be perfect” to perform functions related to scheduling, employment contracts, budgeting, certification, and occupational health and safety administration requirements, Nickerson said.
Another option, mentioned in a 2017 JLN Associates of Old Lyme fire department study for $ 15,000 and 272 pages, is to hire a “full-time fire chief” who will cover both fire departments, ambulance services, and the fire marshal’s office would oversee and emergency management.
Jim Barone, chief of the Niantic fire department, said this week he is not against the idea of a paid boss but has concerns about a fire department administrator. He told The Day that he was elected volunteer leader less than a year ago.
“A fire brigade consists of a boss who has ideas about the future and the cast and equipment and should have a plan. I just don’t see an administrator doing that, ”Barone said.
He found that the city had hired a police chief, not an administrator, when the police department was restructured.
Taylor, the head of Flanders, said this week that he saw no need to change the organization of the departments. “What’s wrong with the system? It’s been working for so many years,” he said.
He said a paid boss would mean that it was no longer volunteering and that the individual departments would lose their autonomy. “It changes the whole aspect of everything,” he said.
Taylor said he was the only one who qualified as boss when he was elected by members of the fire department in October.
In the warrant’s affidavit, state police alleged that Taylor stole more than $ 13,000 from the New London County Fire Marshal’s Association while serving as the group’s treasurer.
Taylor told The Day that “everything has been settled” by the courts and that the money has been repaid. He declined to go into details.
“I go forward and don’t look back,” he said.
The court record is not available because it has been legally sealed, according to the state Justice Department. This is an indication that Taylor was inducted into a distraction program, such as expedited rehabilitation. Generally, if someone successfully completes the program and is not arrested again, their charge will be dismissed.
Nickerson reiterated that the chief is elected by volunteers, saying Taylor is not hired or compensated by the city, nor is he directly responsible for funds.
“We’ll give him a vehicle and give him an email that says eltownhall.com because he’s in charge of a department, it’s a voluntary situation where the first picker and nobody else in town has a say. ” said.
He said he had no concerns about Taylor’s commitment to running a professional organization and that the boss led “with distinction, with great leadership, with professionalism.”
According to Nickerson, there are checks and balances to prevent theft.
Some of these payroll-related checks and balances were introduced after a separate case in 2019 when former Niantic Fire Chief Stephen M. Wargo was charged with first degree theft for raising a total of $ 2,397 on shifts that he had not worked during his service, both as a volunteer director and as a paid, part-time firefighter for the department. Wargo resigned from his positions with the Niantic Fire Department several months before the warrant was issued.
Wargo has been granted a special form of parole by a judge in New London Superior Court that will dismiss charges against him if he has no problems and does 50 hours of community service by October.
Nickerson said anyone with past concerns about Taylor’s role as boss should be covered by these checks and balances.
“And to be honest, we have a good man in a position where he does a very good job,” he said. “Although we all make mistakes in life, I believe in a second chance for people who really deserve it.”