Jul 29, 2014

Tension Prevails as Newtown Fire Commissioners Chastise Botsford Chief

Support the town charter or resign, says chairman

Tension Prevails as Newtown Fire Commissioners Chastise Botsford Chief

There was tension at a special meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners Tuesday evening at the Newtown Hook and Ladder Firehouse, as Commission Chairman Kevin Cragin urged Botsford members to “get your chief under control and come to the next meeting with a solution to this problem,” or the future of the might be “uncertain.”

The entire nearly hour-long meeting was devoted to discussion of the actions of Botsford Fire Chief Wayne Ciaccia, who was not present. Calls to both Ciaccia's residence and the firehouse for comment went unanswered. 

Ciaccia had written a letter to Board of Finance Chairman John Kortze expressing dissatisfaction with his perceived imbalance over town budget support of the Botsford Fire Department, as well as the Hawleyville and Dodgingtown departments, in comparison to the Sandy Hook and Newtown Hook and Ladder departments. Newtown has five volunteer fire departments and a sixth building as well - the Sandy Hook substation on Berkshire Road.

Commissioner Robert Manna from Newtown Hook and Ladder read from the letter Ciaccia sent to Kortze, and supporting documents are included in the March 5, 2012, finance board minutes as attachments. These charts show the equipment each firehouse has, Ciaccia’s analysis of how much financial support each department receives from the town, and how many calls each firehouse has responded to in the past several years.

According to Manna, Ciaccia wrote to Kortze that “It is inappropriate that two of the fire departments have been on the receiving end and the other three have been neglected.”

Complaints about Ciaccia centered around the accuracy of his information, his failure to attend Fire Commission meetings, what seemed to other commissioners to be efforts to bypass the commission to attempt to outflank the other departments for town funds, and as a result, possible violation of the town charter.

“We are here to represent the wishes of our departments and our chiefs, but we have to uphold the town charter,” said Sandy Hook Commissioner Mike Burton, who read from the charter the responsibilities of the commission, including financial management of the departments and management of the equipment.

“It’s disappointing for a chief to act in this fashion, while be doesn’t come to our meetings,” Manna said. “It’s fair to say that the larger, busier departments need more resources.”

Botsford Commissioner Jay Nezvesky defended his chief, saying he can’t come to meetings because he works in the evening, and that he plans to make a more accurate list of the items that show the town’s favoritism toward other departments.

“We all support the letter he sent out,“ said Mark Ouellette, president of the Botsford department. When asked about the department’s finances, he said, “Our financial status is none of the board’s business.”

Hawleyville Commissioner David Jossick said he agreed with some of Ciaccia's concerns, but believes Ciaccia should have come to the commission with his concerns, rather than the Board of Finance. “This gives us a platform for discussion, but the way it’s started off is very destructive,” he said.

Commission Chairman Cragin issued an ultimatum.

“There‘s no more acting separately with this charter and this town. He‘s done it for years,“ said Cragin, one of two civilian members. “Wayne has a choice. He can’t continue to pretend this board doesn’t exist. He’s trying to do business outside the public venue.”

If commissioners don’t agree, he said, they shouldn’t be on the commission.

Elisa Goosman, the other civilian member admonished Botsford members. She grew up in Botsford, and says she remembers her dad digging for the firehouse’s foundation.

“This is a very emotional time for me,” she said. “I remember when Botsford was the laughingstock of the town and all the men and women worked so hard to turn it around. I don’t know what’s going on down there, but you guys have to change. There are a lot of people rolling around in their graves.”

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