Top fire officials announce retirements

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NAUGATUCK — Fire Chief Charles Doback Jr. decided Wednesday to retire rather than accept the terms of a new contract proposed by Mayor Robert A. Mezzo.

His decision came just hours after the fire department’s second-ranking manager, Deputy Chief Kenneth Hanks, announced his own retirement.

The looming departures of its top two managers leaves the future of the 41-member department in limbo.

Fire Chief Charles Doback Jr. announced his retirement this week.

Doback, 48, who also serves as fire marshal, objected to the terms of a contract extension proposal that Mezzo offered him Wednesday morning. He told Mezzo Wednesday afternoon he would retire, and later informed the fire marshal’s staff of his intention to leave by Sept. 9. Doback’s announcement came less than six hours after Hanks announced his own plans to retire by Sept. 5.

Doback, who has served as chief for five years and has worked within the department since 1984, did not return repeated phone calls requesting comment Wednesday. He earned $82,670 last year, while Hanks earned $73,129.

The chief and deputy chief are the only non-union managers in the department. Both respond to calls and Doback oversees the fire marshal staff, leads fire investigations and manages the department’s budget.

Hanks, 49, who has been deputy chief for five years and is a 25-year member of the department, said he would not leave the department in a state of flux. He said he will talk with the Fire Commission and Mezzo today to find out what their wishes are.

“I would hate to leave the department without any management,” Hanks said. “It’s going to take two to three months until they can fill those positions, whether they hire from within or not.”

Mezzo, who confirmed Doback’s plan to retire after the Republican-American had learned of it from other sources, said he was surprised and saddened to hear of the chief’s decision.

“He’s been a good chief,” Mezzo said. “The department had faced many challenges under his leadership and had performed very well in times of crisis. Unfortunately, now we’re going to have some very significant decisions to make in the coming weeks which will have a huge impact on the future of the department.”

Mezzo would not comment on the specifics of the contract he proposed to Doback.

“I will state it was consistent with other non-union supervisory proposals, and it was just that, a proposal,” Mezzo said.

Doback’s contract with the borough ended in June and was up for review. Since then, it was revealed that he did not complete classes toward an associate’s degree at Naugatuck Valley Community College as he agreed to in the contract.

Mezzo sent Doback an e-mail Wednesday with a proposed contract extension, and copied Fire Commission Chairman Mike Bogis, who was part of a team that discussed terms of a contract with Doback last week. Bogis sent a response to Mezzo: “What a joke! Nobody would sign a document like that! This was put together just to force Chief Doback out! I’m sure the Union will be very happy!”

Bogis did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Like Bogis, others have suggested that the Naugatuck Fire Fighters Union Local 1219 conspired to overthrow Doback.

“I don’t believe it’s a union versus management situation at all,” said Timothy Ryan, Fire Commission vice chairman. “I just think maybe it’s their time. They had their years in and there are other possibilities out there.”

Firefighter Jim Ricci, president of Local 1219, said the union was never out to get Doback as an individual, but wanted him to change some of his management approaches.

“Myself and several officers have met with some fire commissioners for over a year to try to resolve some of the management issues within the department and it has fallen on deaf ears,” Ricci said.

Asked what the future of the department holds, Ryan said the commission has to start from scratch. “You lost two great guys,” he said. “Since they came on board, the department has run so smooth. Years before, there were a lot of problems in the department. Since they’ve been on board, it’s been very professional. It’s probably the best the department has run since I’ve been on board as a commissioner” in 1999.