This year, the New Haven Fire Department is looking at additional firefighters, a new fire chief and a potential $1,325,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Following Fire Chief Allyn Wright’s retirement on Jan. 4 after over a year and a half at the helm, Mayor Toni Harp chose longtime firefighter Ralph Black to serve as the interim chief while the city conducts a national search for a new permanent head. The fire department has not yet announced when the search will conclude. Two days after Black took over on Jan. 11, 12 new firefighters also joined the ranks. Black said these new hires will work alongside the approximately 120 firefighters the company has hired in the last year and a half.
The fire department also hopes to see an influx of funds, said Rick Fontanta, director of operations for the Office of Emergency Management. Last week, the department applied for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant, which totals over $1.3 million, from FEMA to fund new portable radios for every firefighter and one heavy duty rescue vehicle for the NHFD, which would help a set of highly trained firefighters more effectively complete confined-space and high-angle rescues.
The department is planning to continue the progress that was made during Wright’s tenure. Black credited Wright and the Harp administration for many of the changes in the department over recent years, including department-wide promotions and hiring to reduce overtime.
“I’m hoping to keep progressing and filling the ranks and that’s some of the plan for 2016,” Black said. “Also to make sure that we highlight some of the positive things that the department is doing, not only in our service, but also some of the things that we do as part of the fabric of New Haven.”
The transition between fire chiefs has been smooth, Fire Operations Chief Matthew Marcarelli said. But Fontana said Marcarelli “carried the ball” between Wright’s retirement and Black’s appointment.
Though Black has only been the interim chief for two weeks, he has served the New Haven department for 27 years. Firefighters’ Local 825 Union President Frank Ricci said that after watching Black ascend the ranks for over two decades, he is excited to see Black serve as interim chief.
“I’ve had a working relationship with him for 19 years,” Ricci said. “I find him to be an honorable man and a consummate professional.”
Ricci said he hopes the city chooses one of the many “consummate and qualified” professionals from within New Haven’s ranks to serve as the permanent chief.
Fontana said the NHFD is a good department on the path to being one of the best fire departments in the country. The department got 25,000 emergency calls last year and had an average response time of under five minutes, Ricci said.
“That’s not an empty statistic. Those are our friends, family and neighbors. That’s a call for help,” Ricci said.
The NHFD has been undergoing continual analysis to improve efficiency, particularly financially. Fontana said the department released a cost analysis five months ago, which has led the department to seek two additional paramedic units due to an increased number of medical calls. The department concluded that using smaller and more efficient medical units could save the department about $1 million each year. The department is awaiting approval from the Board of Alders to buy these vehicles.
The NHFD will learn whether it will receive the FEMA grant by early April.