West Redding Fire Department responds to allegations made by department members

Editor’s Note: The Redding Fire District #2 Commission and the West Redding Volunteer Fire Department have issued the following statement in response to the accusations made by six anonymous members of the department, as reported on Friday, June 1.

The Redding Fire District #2 Commission and the West Redding Volunteer Fire Department are aware of serious, false, and defamatory allegations made by six anonymous members of the West Redding Volunteer Fire Department.  

As a general policy, neither the Redding Fire District #2 Commission nor the West Redding Volunteer Fire Department comment upon membership, personnel, and disciplinary issues. The identities of the anonymous persons are known and will be addressed internally. No further comment will be made on this process. Nevertheless, the Commission and Fire Department believe that several allegations must be addressed.  

The allegation that there is a pending lawsuit against the Commission and Fire Department is patently false. The dockets of the Connecticut Judicial Branch and the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut verify that there are no pending lawsuits at this time. Neither the Commission, the Fire Department, nor Chief Johnson have been served with a Summons and Complaint pertaining to any matter at this time.

A Freedom of Information request was received by both the Commission and the Fire Department in early April 2018 from Attorney Elizabeth Maurer. Attorney Kara A.T. Murphy, who represents both the Commission and the Fire Department in this matter, had multiple discussions with Attorney Maurer regarding the request. Attorney Maurer wished to inspect the available documents at Attorney Murphy’s office. To date, Attorney Maurer has taken no action to review the available documents. Neither the Commission, the Fire Department, nor their legal counsel have received a complaint filed with the Freedom of Information Commission.

The current officers of the Fire Department were elected in November 2017. The newly elected officers were denied access to a locked file cabinet, controlled by the prior officers and directors. The current president gained access to the filing cabinet in January 2018. The cabinet was empty, except for a few sheets of paper. A former officer has admitted in writing to destroying emails protected by the Freedom of Information Act. Further, a former officer was seen removing several boxes of purportedly “personal files” from the Fire Department prior to the November 2017 Annual Meeting. The destruction of documents protected by the Freedom of Information Act is a serious matter. The new president, William Dunn, has obtained replacement copies of some of the documents. However, no past officers or directors of the Fire Department have returned original documents. The Fire Department presumes that the original documents have been destroyed by former officers and directors in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Neither the Commission nor the Fire Department will comment in detail upon any confidential personnel issues or the resignation of prior officers. The allegations in the Redding Pilot are a mischaracterization of the events. At the Fire Department Annual Meeting in November, the members of the volunteer fire department elect (or re-elect) the officers and chief of the department. If the membership is dissatisfied with a fire chief’s performance, they may nominate a qualified candidate for consideration and election at the Annual Meeting. Further, if the membership is dissatisfied with the performance of the officers, the membership may elect new, qualified officers at the meeting. Chief Johnson has been elected, unopposed, for seven consecutive terms as the West Redding fire chief by the membership. In contrast, some of the officers were replaced at the November 2017 meeting by the membership. The current officers are drafting new bylaws to address concerns raised by the membership and intend to have new bylaws approved by the membership prior to the November 2018 Annual Meeting.

The prior officers and directors failed to file annual reports and other filings on behalf of the Fire Department with the Connecticut Secretary of [the] State for 2016 and 2017. The current officers corrected the deficiencies on November 30, 2017. The 2018 Annual Report, due on June 29, 2018, was filed with the Secretary of State’s office on May 17, 2018.

There are two pickup trucks available for use by qualified members of the Fire Department. The Commission owns and insures all of the vehicles used by the Fire Department and its occupants. As per continuing past practice, a fire chief has the option to use one of the pickup trucks in order to respond to fire department calls directly and to avoid travelling to the fire department before responding to the call. The current fire chief uses one of the two pickup trucks with authority and permission of the Commissioners, so that he has the option to respond to fire calls directly. The Commission is aware that he brings the pickup truck with him to his employment in Wilton. The pickup truck is appropriately stocked with equipment and is properly marked as a fire vehicle.  Redding Ridge has a similar vehicle with similar markings.

With regard to the radio communications antenna behind the fire department, the Town of Redding is aware of the existence of the antenna, and the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Town. Similarly, the issue regarding Scot Sanford’s dual role as an elected District Commissioner and as an Assistant Fire Chief is moot, as he is no longer in a dual role. Prior to accepting the dual role, he sought a legal opinion from Town legal counsel. Further, previous members of the Fire Department have had similar dual roles. Mr. Sanford has dedicated his life to protecting and serving the community, and the unfounded allegations and attacks upon his personal and professional integrity are inflammatory and unconscionable.

In 1981, Pearl Olmstead donated unrestricted funds to the Fire Department. The funds were maintained in an interest-bearing account until 2016. In 2016, the Fire Department decided to replace the ambulance as Chevrolet had an available diesel chassis, but the cost of the ambulance exceeded the monies in the Pearl Olmstead Fund. On September 6, 2016, after a long discussion, the fire department membership voted to withdraw the funds, and to provide the funds to the fire district for the acquisition of a new ambulance. The fire district used the funds, supplemented by its own budgeted funds, to purchase the ambulance. A plaque honoring Pearl Olmstead is affixed to the ambulance and is dated January 22, 2017. Any claim that the Commission and fire chief misappropriated funds is meritless.

The current officers of the Fire Department are in the process of effectuating cultural change, which is a long, arduous process. The new officers have revised the membership manual and handbook, have instituted new financial controls to protect taxpayer funds, and are revising the bylaws. The long-term goal is to improve the process and transparency within the organization and with the residents of Redding.

This response was written by West Redding Fire Department District Commissioners Scot Sanford, Elaine Kokoska, and Hank Bielawa, and Fire Department President William Dunn, with the assistance of Kara Murphy, an attorney with Tierney, Zullo, Flaherty & Murphy in Norwalk.

To view the original story, click here.

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