Borough officials, union clash over hiring new fire marshal

NAUGATUCK — Borough officials and the firefighters union found themselves at odds over how to hire a new fire marshal to replace former Fire Marshal Robert Weaver, who retired June 30.

Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess and members of the Board of Fire Commissioners wanted to amend the firefighters union contract to include specific requirements that would allow three of the members of the Naugatuck Fire Department to apply for the job. As it stands now, the way the contract is written, none of the members of the fire department are eligible to apply because they don’t fit all the requirements.

“No one will qualify if we don’t change the contract,” Hess said during a special Board of Fire Commissioners meeting July 8, referring to members of the fire department.

“If we follow the contract word for word, there’s no one who can take the test,” Fire Chief Ellen Murray added.

The proposed changes that officials want to make to the contract include: knowledge of and experience in plan review, experience in fire investigation, hold a current Connecticut Fire Marshal certification, be up to date on Continuing Education Units, experience inspecting residential and commercial structures, a minimum of 10 years’ experience as a deputy fire marshal, fire marshal or inspector, and to be certified as Firefighter I or higher.

Members of the firefighters union said changing the language in the contract — and bypassing hiring an outside testing company — would encourage favoritism.

Nick Traycheff, the vice president of the firefighters union, said that making the changes that officials wanted would “bastardize our contract.”

Traycheff and firefighters favored the borough using a testing company to pick the candidate, but Hess and borough officials didn’t think testing is a good idea.

“The best candidate might not get the highest grade,” Hess said.

After the meeting, Traycheff said the union is trying to keep the matter objective.

“What they want us to do, violates too much of the contract,” he said. “If we allow this, the next time there’s a promotion, they’ll do the same.”

Hess said he believes borough officials — not the union — should decide who is hired as fire marshal.

“Our position is that fire marshal is a town position where the ultimate decision should be made solely by management,” Hess said.

The next step will be advertising the position at the fire department. Because no one there fits the requirements listed in the contract, the post will have to be advertised outside Naugatuck.

“If you guys want to fall on your sword, that’s your business,” Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman John Ford said.