By SHERIDAN CYR
The Town Council approved an internal $25,000 transfer to the fire department in a 5-3 vote to be used for a fire chief hiring consultant.
The council’s approval will now allow fire department officials to sign the $25,000 contract with a search consultant. The Board of Fire Commissioners received approval from the Board of Finance to move the money from their salary account. The approval then came before the council for the final word.
The bipartisan vote to approve the $25,000 expense united Democrats Chris Poulos and Kelly Morrissey with Republicans Victoria Triano, Tom Lombardi, and William Dziedzik.
“I supported it because it was approved by the Fire Commission and then approved by the Board of Finance,” said Lombardi. “I am in support of the fire commission to invest in the $25,000 after an internal process did not yield the candidate that the Fire Commission was looking for.”
A new interim fire chief has been temporarily seated: former assistant chief Thomas Wisner was appointed to the interim position after Eric Heath stepped down from the interim position. Heath is a battalion chief, and was appointed to interim chief after Harold “Buddy” Clark retired in February of 2017.
Heath originally applied for the permanent position. He and two other contenders went through a series of tests. Heath ultimately backed out, and the other two potentials ultimately didn’t make the cut.
The escalating cost of overtime in the fire department has been a topic of discussion at recent meetings of the Fire Commissioners, Board of Finance, and Town Council. A number of retirements in the department have not been filled, causing overtime to increase as the department responds to emergencies.
Officials said that moving Heath back to his position as battalion chief will save money for the department, as it will eliminate the need to pay a fire staffer extra to fill in as battalion chief in Heath’s absence.
Democratic councilors Chris Palmieri (chair), John Barry, and Dawn Miceli voted in disfavor of the $25,000 transfer.
Mike Riccio was not in attendance.
“Ultimately the $25,000 was approved,” said Palmieri, “so they will hire a consultant and get the ball rolling with that.”
Palmieri said that the search could be handled internally since the Council has recently added four new resources for the ongoing search.
The council merged two existing human resource positions into one human resource manager, Michelle Passamano, and promoted Town Manager Mark Sciota from his former position as deputy town manger. Also included in the list are two unpaid appointments to the Fire Commissioners Committee: Town Councilor Kelly Morrissey was named as a liaison to the commission and John Moise was added to the commission.
“Since the original job search for the fire chief position began, we have introduced four new positions in our town,” said Palmieri, “and I believe we have an incredible potential to solve this problem without paying an outside source.”
The commission has been searching for a replacement for Harold “Buddy” Clark since his retirement in February 2017. There have been two interim chiefs during the year-long search.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.