Borough leaders consider rehiring fire chief

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NAUGATUCK — Local leaders are negotiating a new contract with Fire Chief Charles Doback Jr., a 26-year member of the Naugatuck Fire Department who has led the organization since 2004.

Doback, 48, earned $82,670 last fiscal year to serve as chief and fire marshal. His five-year pact with the borough expired on June 8.

Mayor Robert A. Mezzo has told Fire Commission Chairman Michael Bogis to begin renegotiating Doback’s new contract.

The commission’s recommendation will go to the borough’s human resource department, and then to Mezzo’s office. According to the borough charter, all public employee contracts go before the Board of Mayor and Burgesses to be ratified. The board will have the ultimate say over whether Doback will be rehired.

Bogis said the Fire Commission has recommended rehiring the chief.

“He’s done a good job with the department,” Bogis said. “We’re very organized and equipped, as well as we can be with the economic conditions in this town.”

Not everyone agrees with that assessment.

Twenty-year firefighter Jim Ricci, president of Naugatuck Fire Fighters Union, local 1219, said Doback is “a good guy but an ineffective chief.”

“We have no direction under Chief Doback, not that we’re aware of,” Ricci said. “He has no faith or trust in his own officers.”

Fire Capt. Richard Alfes, a 29-year firefighter, said he won’t say Doback has no faith in his officers.

“I would say he has limited faith, though,” said Alfes, who also works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is an instructor at the Connecticut Fire Academy. “I have a lot of respect for (Doback) personally. What I don’t have respect for is his management style.”

Alfes said Doback has not had an officers’ meeting in more than four years, which Alfes said is not conducive to running a good department.

Doback, a lifelong Naugatuck resident, said Monday he would not respond to criticisms or talk about his contract negotiations until the process is complete.

“I understand the mayor is negotiating with the fire board, and I’m going to reserve comment until that process is completed,” he said.

Doback’s previous contract, which was written in 2005, states that he would complete an associate’s degree at Naugatuck Valley Community College, and that the borough would pay for 12 credits.

Doback said Monday that he has not completed the degree program, though he has earned several credits at the college.

Bogis, the fire commission chairman, said four commissioners and one alternate member discussed Doback’s contract in a private, closed-door meeting last month and agreed that Doback is a solid leader.

The commission did not discuss Doback’s contract in public.

“We didn’t take a final vote because this is not the final step in the process,” he said.

Mezzo said that as of Monday, Bogis had submitted a redlined copy of Doback’s expired contract to Human Resource Director Jeanette Deschesnes that shows notes and suggestions that the commission wants added for purposes of negotiating a new pact.

Mezzo said he has a tremendous amount of respect for Doback.

“Chief Doback is a gentleman, a family man and someone who cares deeply about his community,” Mezzo said, adding that he will not comment about ongoing contract negotiations.

He said there is no secret that there is friction between labor and management inside the walls of the firehouse.

“What matters most to me, and why I have respect for the chief and each and every firefighter, is that when there is an emergency or a crisis, they do their job, they are professional and they inspire confidence,” he said.

“And it’s not independent of each other; it’s done as a unit.”

He said he has no intention of taking sides in any sort of internal friction within the department. “Rather, I have hopes to bring the parties together,” he said.