Letter: Creating Appearance of Conflict Where None Exists in Fire Commission Appointments

An Open Letter to the Board of Selectmen:

The Board of Selectmen should have been thrilled to have several qualified, tax-paying citizens desiring to serve in the capacity of Fire Commissioner. Instead, at the most recent BOS meeting, First Selectwoman [Lynne] Vanderslice chose to reject those applicants with years of public service in Fire and Emergency Services, citing varying  “conflict of interest” criteria.

She strove to omit the first candidate, a trusted and highly esteemed former career firefighter stating, “It really comes down to the proper management of the department. If a former employee becomes fire commissioner they could potentially be making decisions about former colleagues.” This, of course, did not appear to be a relevant concern when she recently promoted from within Deputy Chief/Chief Elect [Jim] Blanchfield.

She went on to contend that the second applicant proposed by the Democratic Nominating Committee, a “Wilton paramedic” would be eliminated based upon the “state statute that the Fire Service is in charge at “incidents”. This basic tenet of the nationwide, FEMA-implemented Incident Management System addresses the chain of command in any mass casualty incident. The tenet was designed to eliminate any potential interagency conflicts between police, fire, and EMS in the event of a major mass casualty or another disaster. It is of little relevance on a typical 911 request for assistance nor is it applicable in an active shooter scenario.

Thankfully these events are extremely rare and since I am but one of 30 Paramedics eligible to work in the town of Wilton on any given day, it seems highly unlikely, statistically speaking, that such a “perfect storm” would arise whereby I would become embroiled in, or receive discipline from, anyone in Fire Command. I could never have survived 40 years of service as a professional first responder if I had any issues regarding chain of command.

I sincerely appreciate that Selectwoman [Deb] McFadden correctly and quickly clarified that I am not an employee of the town of Wilton.

These volunteer commissions, just like any Fire Department promotion, should be awarded to candidates who truly understand the challenges facing our fire service moving forward, have the time and energy to devote to the commission, and enjoy a reputation for displaying consistent knowledgeable leadership. Our career firefighters are deserving of a Fire Commission comprised of individuals that possess more than a cursory knowledge of fire department policy and procedure. Were I a professional firefighter facing a potential disciplinary action I would prefer that the people tasked with enforcing or recommending an action be truly familiar with the inherent complexities of the job, they themselves having actually “been in the trenches”.

To infer that we three candidates lack the integrity to conduct ourselves without prejudice in potential hiring or punitive proceedings is both offensive and malicious. To discuss applicants in a public forum utilizing readily identifiable monikers is unsophisticated. One most certainly should not have to learn that they were deemed ineligible to move forward through an editorial post.

To not interview applicants, especially those brought forth by the Democratic Nominating Committee for this vacant Democratic position seems unethical.

Were I a member of the BOS I would have elected to proceed with the interviews.

I would desire to know what compelled these individuals to apply for an unpaid, complicated, time consuming, potentially litigious, endeavor such as this. I then would have based my selection upon those responses rather than some preconceived, wildly hypothetical, quite possibly prejudicial, conjecture.

The Board of Selectmen were presented with eager, well-qualified applicants, an “embarrassment of riches” one might suggest, and still managed to make a mockery of the process.

It’s apparent Vanderslice does not want anyone serving on the Fire Commission who has any knowledge of the Fire Service. It begs the question, is “the tail wagging the dog?”

As a Wilton taxpayer, business owner, and resident, but moreover, as someone serving on the frontline of this pandemic, I am disappointed that Selectwoman Vanderslice felt the need to create an appearance of conflict where none exists. How very divisive.

Debra Failla