NORWALK, Conn. – An opportunity to try to create a regional fire department vehicle maintenance facility in Norwalk with state money was soundly rejected by Common Council members Thursday night.
The council’s Health, Welfare and Public Safety Committee unanimously voted no after grilling Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy for about an hour, thereby ending the chief’s attempt to get $1.9 million in grant money from the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management. Norwalk would not have had to put in any money if it won the grant.
“Call me old fashioned but I’m not one for regionalization,” Common Councilman Glenn Iannacone (R-At Large), a retired fire marshal, said to explain his “no” vote. “I’m a home rule type of guy. I don’t like giving control of our apparatus to someone else.”
The unanimous vote inspired a quip from East Norwalk activist Diane Cece.
“This was weird,” she said. “It was like the ‘Twilight Zone’. Who are they and what have they done to the Common Council?
Council members never turn down what looks like free money, she said.
McCarthy said in his pitch that the council would have many opportunities to turn down the project as the process to convert the current facility at 100 Fairfield Ave. to a larger usage continued even if the grant was approved. There was no risk as there was no need for matching funds, he said.
“I see an opportunity to resolve some of the larger issues we have with the facility and with staffing by applying for the grant,” he aid. “If it doesn’t work out, if we can’t work out the legal liability and the financing, the fee structure, then we walk away. … To not to apply for the grant, we are missing the opportunity to at least investigate whether we can save the city of Norwalk some money.”
Richard Bonenfant asked if Norwalk fire vehicles would wait in line behind fire vehicles from other towns in a building that it had ceded control over.
“Right now. with 1½ employees, our trucks are on a waiting list,” McCarthy said. “If we have 4½, or 3½ or 4 employees, we have a greater ability to maintain our fleet and the larger fleet. We can make better decisions by moving pieces around, prioritizing the work. … I think a larger staff gives you more flexibility to make those decisions.”
Committee Chairwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C) said liability was a concern.
“It sounds really nice and happy but anybody who is involved in any type of an accident, no matter who it is, we’re finding people who are suing anyone. So there is no way that Norwalk is not going to be named in a lawsuit if, God forbid, something happened to someone,” she said. “It could have been the guys from New Canaan who weren’t trained properly on their apparatus and then an accident occurs and it goes back to the maintenance records, which is going to be taken place by the city of Norwalk’s mechanics. … That is something that we really have to think about as citizens here.”