Courant Community Canton: Canton Appoints New Fire Chief
By Ken Byron Ken Byron, Contact Reporter
CANTON — Craig Robbins, deputy chief of the town’s volunteer fire and ambulance service, has been promoted to chief and will be the first new person in that post in more than a decade.
The board of selectmen promoted Robbins when it met on Tuesday and he will start his new position on Feb. 1, Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said. Robbins will serve a term that expires at the end of 2019, Skinner said.
Robbins, who joined the all-volunteer department in 1998, will be the first new fire chief since 2003. He takes the place of Richard Hutchings, who led the fire and EMS department for most of the past 20 years. Hutchings’ term in office expired at the end of December and he and Robbins were the two applicants for the position. The selectmen named Hutchings interim chief while they reviewed the appointment at meetings in December and January.
“This was not an easy decision and not one that was made in haste,” First Selectman Leslee Hill said on Friday. “We are cognizant of Chief Hutchings’ many years of service to the town but change can be healthy and this is an opportunity to move the fire department forward with a new leader who is very qualified.”
Hill said the vote to appoint Robbins was unanimous. The town bought a new ladder truck for the department last year and Robbins was the officer who made the presentations to the selectmen on the proposal to buy it. Hill said she and others on the board were impressed by Robbins’ research and how he presented the argument in favor of purchasing the vehicle, which cost $950,000.
“It seemed like the right time to try a new challenge,” Robbins said on Friday about his decision to seek the chief’s job. He is a regional manager for Altec, a company that makes trucks for utility companies, and has lived in Canton for 25 years.
The town has started the process of adding paramedics to the ambulance service. Except for implementing that, Robbins said he does not anticipate major changes for the department once he takes over. He said the single biggest challenge he sees for the organization is retaining and recruiting volunteers.
“Chief Hutchings built a strong team and I plan on building on what he started,” Robbins said.
Hutchings could not be reached on Friday for comment. He joined what was then known as the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department in 1977, when it was one of three fire departments in town. He was appointed the town’s fire chief in 1996 and served until 2000, a turbulent period when the three independent fire departments were merged into one. Hutchings was named chief again in 2003 and he has held the position since.
Hutchings was often the only applicant for the job, which is part time and comes with a $10,000 stipend.