Turnover to create openings in fire department

The Naugatuck Fire Department is expecting about a dozen or more openings in the next year or so. –FILE PHOTO

The Naugatuck Fire Department is expecting about a dozen or more openings in the next year or so. –FILE PHOTO


NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck Fire Department is looking for a few good firefighters.

The department is expecting four to six openings come July, Fire Chief Ken Hanks said. In fiscal year 2013-14, he said another 10 or so positions could open up as the department undergoes a substantial change.

Hanks said 13 people will be eligible for retirement in the coming fiscal year, although he doesn’t anticipate all 13 retiring.

Such a wave of openings is an anomaly for the department, which last saw a similar turnover in the late 1980s, early 1990s, he said.

“We don’t have a lot of turnover in this department, people like to stay here,” Hanks said.

Part of the reason for the turnover stems from the new firefighters’ contract that was approved in December.

The new contract puts new hires in defined contribution pension plans similar to 401(k) accounts. In exchange, current firefighters in the defined benefit plan can retire with 75 percent of the average of their highest three years’ pay, rather than their last three years’ base pay after 25 years of service.

Under the old contract, employees who retired after 20 years would receive 60 percent for their pension. That increased to 70 percent in the new deal.

“It wasn’t a major change, but that was enough of an incentive to make some people want to retire,” Hanks said.

Anyone who retires within the next five years will receive free health care, but after five years retirees will contribute increasingly more. Retirees can also count more overtime pay and unused sick days toward their pensions.

The retirements have already begun in the department.

Two firefighters, 24-year veteran Thomas Kaminski and 29-year veteran Capt. David Seeger retired last month.

The commission has since hired two new firefighters to replace Kaminski and Seeger.

Donald Scarpetti, who has been a volunteer firefighter in Fairfield for the past six years, and Jason Salemme, a training officer in the Shelton volunteer fire department, have been hired. They must pass a background check, a medical examination and a drug test.

Both firefighters will have to go through a 14-week training program at the Connecticut Fire Academy, which starts next month, and will not be working in the borough until June.

The hires were made from a list of applicants from two years ago. The department is looking to build a new list for the soon-to-be open positions.

Hanks and Fire Commission Chairman Wayne Malicki want to get the word out about the openings because those interested in applying need to begin the process now.

In order to apply, candidates must pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). The CPAT is an exam used to test a candidate’s physical ability to perform tasks related to firefighting including a hose drag, a forcible entry and a victim drag.

During the test, candidates wear a 50-pound vest to simulate the weight of a firefighter’s equipment and an additional 25 pounds, which simulates a high-rise pack, is added for the stair climb event only.

Hanks pointed out that the Southington YMCA offers training classes for the CPAT.

Candidates who passed the test in the year prior to when the department will be hiring do not need to redo it. The department will also honor CPAT cards of completion from other states, Hanks said, as long as they were earned within a year prior to the hire.

The CPAT is given twice a year in the state with the next test later this spring. The deadline for applying to take the CPAT is March 7.

The test is administered at the fire academy in Meriden and a $150 fee applies.

For more information on the CPAT, visit the state Commission on Fire Prevention and Control’s webpage.

Candidates who pass the CPAT will be given written tests and the highest-scoring candidates are called in for interviews. There is no residency requirement to be a Naugatuck firefighter. However, borough residents and residents of bordering towns are given extra points on the written test. Veterans are also given extra points.

As the commission looks towards filling the positions, it’s hoping to do so with more diversity.

The department has 41 full-time employees. Hanks and Deputy Chief Ellen Murray are the only ones not in the union. The other 39 firefighters are all while men.

Malicki said officials want to diversify the department and is encouraging women and minorities to apply for the positions that will be opening up.

Malicki said the demographics in Naugatuck are changing and the fire department should reflect that change.

Recent census data showed the borough population is about 51 percent female, 9 percent Hispanic, 5 percent black and 3 percent Asian.

“The community in Naugatuck is changing,” he said.

He and other fire department and human resources employees are working with the Naugatuck Cultural Council and Naugatuck Valley Community College to reach out to more female and minority candidates.

The commission plans to take applications for the positions online and is currently reviewing companies to handle it. For more information or for questions on the openings and hiring process, email naugfire@snet.net.

The Republican American contributed to this article.

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