SOUTHINGTON — With seven weeks on the job, Fire Chief Richard Butler said the department faces problems that made him question taking the position, but said Southington has quality people and was hopeful that the department can overcome challenges.
“I hope that we are going to be successful in moving the organization forward,” Butler told the Board of Fire Commissioners at Thursday night’s meeting. “I see no reason why we can’t make this work as everybody believes it should.”
Butler was hired after a year-long search for a full-time fire chief following the retirement of Harold “Buddy” Clark.
Butler identified the loss of volunteers as one of the biggest problems facing the department. He proposed reducing the calls that go to volunteers, lowering the burden on them and hopefully retaining more people trying to balance work, family and an unpaid position in the fire service.
The all-call system, where every request for help goes to both volunteers and career firefighters, isn’t working, according to Butler. Something has to be done to recruit more volunteers and retain those who the department has spent thousands of dollars training and equipping.
“If we don’t build a strong volunteer force, the town’s going to be forced to increase taxes to afford a career department,” Butler said. “In this day and age, that’s not a popular decision. … I’ve got to have a good, strong volunteer service here.”
Butler said he’s writing expectations for officers to help the department move toward his recommended goals, such as accreditation.
“We need to establish expectations,” Butler said. “I want to be very clear in what I expect.”
Butler also mentioned the need to rebrand the organization and to build trust between volunteers and career firefighters. The scope of the work in Southington daunted him as he learned more about the organization.
“If it wasn’t for my son visiting me here, I might not still be here,” he said Thursday.
Commission members had little comment on Butler’s report, saying they needed to read some of the material and sample expectations he’d passed out.
“This is good, I like the expectations,” said commission vice chairwoman Mary Baker.
Glenn Dube, a battalion chief and head of the local firefighters union, said the last seven weeks under Butler have been a good start toward improvements.
“We look forward to working together and moving the organization forward,” he said.