Council members had its second reading of the ordinance and then approved the emergency declaration. Steve Schumm didn’t attend the meeting but was excused for out-of-town travel.
The newly-created assistant fire chief position was an emergency measure because it wasn’t part of the original annual budget for 2020. Schumm and fellow council members Steve Euton (president), Dave Wallace and Samantha Wilhelm co-sponsored the legislation.
“I spent a lot of time researching this … more than any other legislation, aside from the budget,” said councilman Matt Doughty, who represents the fourth ward.
Doughty said he learned that due to Chief John Soisson’s medical leave, the fire department has had to depend even more on council clerk Jaime Peiples for administrative responsibilities and there needs to be a continuity plan in place. After the council member spoke, there was no further discussion.
Capt. Rick Perry has been the acting chief while Soisson, who went on paid leave June 17, recovers from a medical issue.
Soisson has worked for the fire department for 27 years and was named the chief in 2013. For now, city officials don’t have a timetable for his possible return.
Dean Hales, of Old Orchard Loop, asked why the ordinance was an emergency legislation and why council sees the need for an assistant chief.
Norwalk law director Stuart O’Hara said it will take two-to-three months to go through the civil service process and by approving the ordinance now, it gives the city an additional 30 days. Also, he said the position won’t just benefit the fire department and city, but will help the chief with his responsibilities — no matter who it is. Echoing what he has said in previous interviews, O’Hara told Hales that chief has many more required duties than he had in previous years.
Kevin Fleming, also of Old Orchard Loop, asked if the hiring of the assistant chief will come from within the department. O’Hara said the position first will be offered to the current firefighters.
Perry thanked council for supporting the legislation. The acting chief said it’s similar to saying to each firefighter that council members appreciate what they do and are looking out for their well-being. While noting that the jobs of both police officers and firefighters “are very stressful,” Perry said firefighters are 50 to 100 percent more likely to die from various cancers, due to what they are exposed to during blazes, and die 10 to 15 years earlier than the average male.
“I can’t thank you enough,” he told council.
Before Perry spoke, Hales asked council members what they considered more important — the drug epidemic and overdoses or burning buildings.
“Any life is lost in the city is important,” said Perry, who doesn’t see a difference between someone dying in a fire and a death due to an overdose.