Southington fire commission approves money to pay stipends owed to volunteer firefighters

Southington fire commission approves money to pay stipends owed to volunteer firefighters


SOUTHINGTON — The Board of Fire Commissioners approved a special appropriation of $40,000 Thursday to pay stipends owed to volunteer firefighters as part of a labor complaint about reimbursement not meeting the minimum wage.

The back pay to volunteers is part of a state Department of Labor ruling. The commissioners changed payment from an hourly reimbursement to a per call stipend of $7.02 last year following two labor complaints.

The special appropriation compensates firefighters for previous calls, according to board Chairman Michael Bunko.

Interim Fire Chief Eric Heath said the $40,000 doesn’t upset the budget, although he’s not sure how much the department will have to pay under the new reimbursement scheme.

“We could still end the year in the red” for the firefighter stipend account, Heath said.

The Department of Labor “strongly urged” the town to abandon the hourly rate, according to Bunko. The department had paid firefighters $8.24 per hour or any part of an hour while on a call. The average call is 37 minutes, according to fire officials.

Also on Thursday, the fire commission denied a request from volunteer firefighter Steven Bull for a year extension to his year-long absence from the department.

Bull was suspended for more than a month in 2012 for insubordination at a fire scene. Former Fire Chief Harold “Buddy” Clark suspended Bull after the volunteer firefighter delayed retrieving a tag which allows the chief to make sure no firefighters are still inside a dangerous building. Clark was concerned that Bull had delayed getting in his tag because he was talking with another firefighter and the two argued at the scene.

Bull filed a written report with Sgt. Frank Bavaro of the Police Department after the argument, alleging that Clark “grabbed his right wrist with his left hand” and demanded that Bull hand over his entry tag. Bull felt that Clark acted in an unprofessional manner, swearing and using unnecessary physical contact, according to the report. A police investigation ended with no charges being filed.

Heath argued against extending the leave of absence since it’s department policy to allow no more than a year unless the firefighter is absent and serving in the military.

“After two years of being separated from the department, you’re missing out on a lot of mandatory training,” he said. “It goes against our standard operating guidelines.”

Commission members agreed and worried about setting a precedent for extended absences.

Heath said Bull could reapply to the department. Bull could not be reached for comment Thursday night. 203-317-2230 Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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