'Smoke detectors save lives'

Cary Ashby • Feb 28, 2019 at 9:00 AM

As many great things as his firefighters and officers are doing, Norwalk Fire Chief John Soisson said “there are still a lot of things to improve.”

Soisson, when presenting his annual report to city council, said the department needs to find a way to solve “the systematic problem” of homes without smoke detectors.

“Smoke detectors save lives,” the chief said.

In making his point to council, Soisson referred to two house fires in nearly the few last weeks in which there were no detectors. He said there have been incidents in which firefighters have discovered unopened boxes of smoke detectors at residential fires.

Authorities have said there were no working smoke detectors in the Park Ridge Court house that was gutted from a January 2018 fire that killed three family members. The victims were 65-year-old Robert Griggs Jr., his 57-year-old wife Rebecca and their 27-year-old son James.

For nearly 15 years, Fisher-Titus Medical Center has donated smoke detectors to the fire department. The initiative was started by a local Project Leadership class. 

When firefighters notice a residence or apartment without a smoke detector, Soisson said he has the firefighters install one for the resident. The crew keeps a supply of detectors on each truck.

“I just tell our guys to be alert,” Soisson said, referring to home safety-checks.

Capt. Brett Beers, when asked how many detectors firefighters install each year, said it is “upwards of 300.”

In 2018, firefighters responded to 2,087 incidents. Nearly 89 percent of those calls — 1,852 — were in the city of Norwalk, while the remaining responses were to Norwalk Township (161 incidents), Bronson Township (58) and 16 were out of the area. The fire department covers 46 square miles.

“The guys stay busy,” said Soisson, who also complimented his officers on doing a great job of managing overtime while providing the appropriate coverage.

The chief praised his firefighters for being so engaged in and understanding the importance of training. In 2018, the crew logged more than 4,200 hours. On Monday, 32 people from eight fire departments were involved in a six-hour training session about writing reports. 

“Our training has been dynamic,” Soisson said.

Beers oversees the training for the Norwalk department. Soisson told council that given Beers’ passion, he is a role model and inspiration for the other firefighters.

The new fire station had its grand opening Nov. 15, which was attended by more than 500 people. The construction team included Mull and Weithman Architects, general contractor Studer-Obringer and several subcontractors. Construction started in late 2017.

Soisson said more $2 million of donations and “in-kind work” made the facility at 108 Whittlesey Ave. a reality. He credited that generosity to the community “buying into” what the department does.

The new space allows firefighters to do a significant amount of training inside, Soisson said, especially exercises they couldn’t do beforehand. The station, according to the annual report, “is a certified continuing education training site.” 

In early November, the department held an official “last call” to close the former station, 42 Whittlesey Ave., and move into the new facility. Soisson said the firefighters put in quite effort to pack up the old station and the crew is in the process of getting “all the bugs out” in the new building. 

The chief also expressed how pleased he is with the improved grades the department after being surveyed by the Insurance Services Organization (ISO). The audit, which happened in February 2018, evaluated the structural fire-suppression delivery system provided in Norwalk. There are three elements: Emergency communications (10 percent), fire department (50 percent covering engines, ladders, deployment analysis, personnel, training, operational considerations and community risk-reduction) and water supply (40 percent).

Soisson said the total evaluation meant the department went from class four to class three.

“Now I want to go to a two because we’re so close,” the chief told council.

Norwalk Safety-Service Director Ellen Heinz said the city is grateful for the “incredible initiative” that “Chief Soisson and his team have shown” and what they do for Norwalk and the entire area.

“Chief John Soisson is one of the most passionate, committed and successful people I’ve ever worked with in my career. It is a pleasure to work with John because he is completely dedicated to his mission and serious about his role;  he never stops thinking what he can do to make things better, 100 percent of the time – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“John, his leadership team and his entire department should be commended for the amazing work they do, each and every day. Their jobs are extremely difficult and dangerous and everything they do and sacrifice — day in and day out — is focused on safety and providing the best support and care to our community,” Heinz said.

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