Conn. fire officials at odds over training event

A complaint alleges that the fire chief violated NFPA guidelines related to live fire training

The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. — An annual event designed to highlight the difficulties firefighters face in the performance of their jobs to state legislators and the media has become the subject of a complaint with the state Department of Occupational Safety and Health.

The complaint, filed by Hartford Deputy Chief of Training Daniel Nolan, alleges that Fire Chief Carlos Huertas violated National Fire Protection Association guidelines related to live fire training, including roof ventilation, live burns and automobile extrication.

Nolan's complaint alleged that in past years Huertas had used staff from the training division to support and oversee the training exercises held at the department's training academy, but this year did not.

"Due to the nature of having untrained personnel participating in this exercise [three legislators and two members of the media suited up and participated in Monday's event], along with other firefighters who are not familiar with the operation of live burns and structures utilized at this event, the potential for injury is great," Nolan wrote in the complaint.

In the complaint, Nolan said that he had requested overtime for six members of the training division because the scheduling of the event coincided with their days off, and emails attached to the complaint show that Huertas initially approved the overtime but later rescinded it without explanation..

Nolan alleged that Huertas' decision put participants' safety at risk for financial reasons.

Firefighters from more than a dozen departments around the state participated in Monday's event, known as Fire Operations. Participants worked alongside professional firefighters, going into the training academy's smokehouse to douse a flame, extricating motor vehicle accident victims and cutting open a roof. The goal of the exercises is to give legislators a hands-on understanding of the work firefighters do so they can share that with colleagues when considering legislation at the Capitol.

"This is a controlled environment. Your best interests are going to be in our hands," said James Mastroianni, of Middletown South Fire District and president of union Local 3918.

Asked about the complaint Monday, Huertas said that one member of Hartford's training division was involved and that other needed safety oversight was being handled by certified personnel from other departments.

Vincent Fusco, president of Hartford's firefighter union Local 760, said that no overtime has been offered in the program's seven years of operation.

"[Nolan] wanted overtime. The chief denied it, so he filed a complaint," Fusco said.

Nolan said his concern was for the safety of the participants who weren't familiar with Hartford's structures, but added that Huertas' unexplained change of heart shows that he was deliberately holding back overtime opportunities for training division personnel.

Nolan and Huertas have been at odds over several issues in the department, including the handling of the board of inquiry tasked with investigating the line-of-duty death of firefighter Kevin Bell in a house fire in October. The board, of which Nolan is a member, has not met in three months and has no meetings scheduled.

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