Board acts on job rules; Shelton fire panel changes hiring practices at top
Rick Scavetta, Register Staff        July 20, 2000

SHELTON — Under deadline pressure, the Board of Fire Commissioners on Wednesday changed job descriptions and hiring practices for top city fire officials, but not to the approval of volunteers who want written testing required.

During discussions at the board’s meeting, Director of Public Safety Kenneth F. Nappi stressed that all decisions hinge on a legal review by the city’s attorney. 

After seven White Hills firefighters filed and won a lawsuit over the way the commission hired the chief and two assistant chiefs, commissioners were forced to scrutinize their own policies. 

For nearly two decades Shelton firefighters have used the current job descriptions. 

Commissioners met last Wednesday at an informal work session to discuss their options. 

The board unanimously approved lengthening the terms for fire chief from two to three years, but allow a chief to serve only two terms. Assistant chiefs will now serve three-year terms up to a maximum of three times. 

Guidelines for selecting a fire chief were approved 4-to-1. 

Commissioner Bruce Kosowsky from White Hills Fire Company 5 opposed. 

Candidates will go before a "technical oral exam," consisting of three peers of equal or higher rank. Once scored, the candidates will be ranked by the score they achieved. The board will then interview the top five candidates and make their selection. 

"That would prevent someone from going in and picking from the bottom," Commissioner Wayne Travers said. 

But the changes are a step in the wrong direction to some volunteers. 

White Hills Captain Tim Manion said the problem with the commissioner’s plan is they will continue to appoint fire officials rather than make candidates undergo competitive testing. 

"We’re not very happy. I don’t believe in just appointing people," Manion said. 

"Everyone else in town has to take tests. If someone who runs a lawnmower has to take a test, shouldn’t the fire chief?" 

The next fire chief also must have five years as a line officer, two years as a chief officer, and experience in hazardous materials response. In addition to state certification as a firefighter, the chief will now have to attend the state’s incident command program. 

The board also decided future chiefs must attend the state’s safety officer program. 

Candidates who apply for chief this year will have one year to complete the course. 

They also required candidates for chief to hold a commercial driver’s license and undergo drug and alcohol testing. 

Changes to the assistant chief’s position include requiring a candidate to have eight years of service, at least two years as a line officer and successful completion of the state’s incident command program. Commissioners also decided a deputy fire chief must be chosen from among the assistant fire chiefs. 

ommissioners now have a little more than a month to advertise for applications, set up the new oral exam board and pencil in a date for testing. 

The board also approved a new appointment process that will begin with publishing a vacancy. Candidates will submit resumes to the board, who will forward them to the city’s personnel office for review. 

Assistant Chief Justin Sabatino, who is serving temporarily since his term expired June 30, said he intends to re-apply for his job under the new guidelines. He said he already has taken the required courses. 

"I did all that stuff when I joined," the 11-year veteran said. 

"I’m just happy they’re working everything out to move the department forward." 

A legal battle arose two years ago after the department tested for the positions of fire chief and assistant chiefs. When only one candidate passed the test, the board dropped its standards to allow all the applicants to be eligible regardless of how they scored. 

They also changed voting rules for appointments so that a 75 percent affirmative vote was no longer needed and only a majority was required. 

Under those rules, the board chose Fire Chief John Millo. 

Sabatino and Stephen Nesteriak were appointed assistant chiefs. 

In June, a Derby Superior Court judge said the commission had unfairly changed its rules. When Millo’s term ended June 30, commissioners appointed him to a 60-day temporary position as acting chief until the issue was resolved. Under that deadline, the board must make changes and select a new chief.