Former borough fire chief returns as second in command

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By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

Ken Hanks

NAUGATUCK — The borough’s new deputy fire chief is no stranger to the Naugatuck Fire Department.

Former Fire Chief Ken Hanks came out of retirement July 20 to start his new job as the Naugatuck Fire Department’s second in command.

“I enjoy working for this department. I enjoy working in town,” Hanks said. “I’ve seen a lot of change and a lot of progress, and I want to be a part of the continuing change and progress that we’re doing.”

The Board of Mayor and Burgesses on July 19 approved a three-year contract that makes Hanks deputy chief through July 18, 2024. The approval came a week after the Board of Fire Commissioners appointed Hanks to the role. He replaced former Deputy Fire Chief James Trzaski, who resigned in June to become chief of the South Fire District of Middletown.

Hanks’ base salary is $93,000, and it will be evaluated yearly.

Hanks, 60, started his career in 1982 as a volunteer with the Naugatuck Volunteer Fire Department, which no longer exists. He was hired as a full-time firefighter three years later, and climbed the ranks in the department. He became deputy chief in 2005 and chief in 2010. He retired in 2015.

Burgess Robert Neth, who doesn’t agree in principle with hiring someone who is receiving a pension from the borough, voted against the contract. Neth noted, though, that he feels Hanks is the right person for the job.

Borough policy states that departments can only hire someone who retired from the borough for department head-level positions or part-time, temporary or seasonal jobs.

Hanks receives a pension from the borough of about $78,000 a year. He also receives health care coverage as part of his retirement benefits. This, officials have said, saves the borough money since they would have to pay for benefits for someone else hired for the job who isn’t already covered.

Under his contract as deputy chief, Hanks is eligible to participate in a defined contribution pension plan, and the borough will match up to 3%. The borough will also provide Hanks a $1,300 equipment and uniform allowance each year, and a vehicle for business use.

Hanks remained active in the fire service after retiring in 2015. He worked part-time as a program manager at the Connecticut Fire Academy and also taught courses at the academy.

He wants to use his experience to help guide the 42-member department at a time when many of the firefighters are young. The department recently hired six new firefighters, the most that have been hired at any one time, Hanks noted. He said the new hires will start their training course in late August.

Hanks, Fire Chief Paul Russell and Assistant Chief Walter Seaman combined have over 70 years of firefighting experience with the department.

“Having people like myself, Paul and Walt here — we’ve been around a long time — we can impart some of our experience on the new firefighters,” Hanks said.

Russell said Hanks brings an abundance of knowledge and skills to the job that he can share with members of the department. He said the department is blessed to have him back.

“He is a wealth of knowledge and experience, and I consider him a walking, talking encyclopedia for firefighting,” Russell said.

Andreas Yilma contributed to this report.