Fire department hires veteran dispatcher

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Joe Del Buono, retired deputy fire chief in Waterbury, dispatches at the Naugatuck Fire Department on Monday. Del Buono was recently hired as the new fire department dispatcher. –RA ARCHIVE
Joe Del Buono, retired deputy fire chief in Waterbury, dispatches at the Naugatuck Fire Department on Monday. Del Buono was recently hired as the new fire department dispatcher. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Joseph Del Buono spent 25 years in the Waterbury Fire Department, retiring in 2001 as a deputy chief. He went on to become a dispatcher in Newtown, then executive director of Litchfield County Dispatch.

Yet on Monday, in his second hour as a dispatcher for the Naugatuck Fire Department, he found himself staring at three different phones, unsure what to do next.

“Just learning the phone system seems to be a challenge,” said Del Buono after a veteran dispatcher helped him page a firefighter. “It’ll become second nature sooner or later.”

The Fire Commission hired Del Buono earlier this month from a pool of 155 applicants, Fire Chief Ken Hanks said. Del Buono replaces Vidas Melninkaitis, a dispatcher who retired in July after 16 years with the fire department.

The commission interviewed about 10 finalists before choosing Del Buono, who is 59 and lives in Wolcott. Del Buono was offered the job in part based on his experience as both a police and fire dispatcher, at a time when borough police and fire officials are considering combined dispatch.

“He’s got a very strong technical background,” Hanks said. “He just presented himself as the most qualified candidate.”

Del Buono said he “tried retirement” for a year before he applied for the borough job.

“You’re retired, but everybody else has little jobs for you, so you end up running around for everybody else,” Del Buono said. “At least now I have some sort or normalcy and hours again.”

Del Buono has a bachelor’s degree in fire science and administration from Charter Oak State College. He said he learned how to work computer and radio systems during his years as a dispatcher. He also learned the importance of getting and giving out the right information during an emergency.

He will be training in the borough for two weeks, learning local protocols such as which units are sent to which calls.

“This allows you to still be part of the fire service,” he said.

A dispatcher’s starting salary, under the borough fire union’s contract, is about $18.23 per hour.