HARTFORD COURANT: Canton To Study Leadership Options For Fire Department

By | February 21, 2018

The resignation of its volunteer fire chief may result in the town replacing that position with one that is paid.

Fire Chief Craig Robbins, who has been in office for two years, is expected to leave by the end of March. He told town officials that his responsibilities at work have changed and he no longer has time for the volunteer chief’s position.

Rather than commit to keeping the volunteer chief’s position, the board of selectmen will appoint a committee later this winter to study the department’s needs and potential changes to its leadership structure. Officials said a variety of options are on the table but at the very least the committee will have to look at having a paid chief.

People familiar with what is planned say having a paid chief would be the biggest change to the fire department since it was formed out of three small, separate ones more than 20 years ago. The town fire services traditionally have been led and staffed entirely by volunteers. The exception is the town’s ambulance service, which is part of the fire department and has volunteers along with paid staff, including paramedics.

If a paid chief’s position is created it would reflect changing demands for fire services, which includes an increasing emphasis on paperwork and more regulations.

“The fire department has a strong set of officers for operational command at scenes. Where we need help is on the administrative side,” said Wayne Goeben, the department’s assistant chief who will become interim chief on April 1. He will lead the department at least until the end of the year.

Having paid staff for the fire department is not a new idea. Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner said the department requested a paid chief’s position last year. For the upcoming fiscal year, the fire department again requested funding for a full-time position, although that was not for a chief. Neither request was approved, Skinner said.

Goeben has been with the fire department since 1990 and is a program manager at Ensign Bickford Aerospace in Simsbury. He said balancing a full-time job with the needs of leading the department can be challenging.

Other ideas will be looked at in addition to having a paid chief. Those include hiring an administrator to handle paperwork and other functions for the department, hiring a paid firefighter to help with day-time response to calls and creating two chief positions, one for fire and the other for ambulance services.

Any significant change to the fire department may be at least a year off. Skinner said the intent is for the study committee to give recommendations to the board of selectmen by October. With that timeline, a new paid position or other changes that would need additional spending could be incorporated into a budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year.