Norwalk Fire Commission mulling McCarthy’s continued employment

Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy.
Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy.

NORWALK, Conn. – Another year at the helm of Norwalk’s fire department appears to be coming with a struggle for Denis McCarthy.

On Tuesday, the Norwalk Fire Commission engaged in its fourth executive discussion – an executive session at every meeting for the last four months – to discuss renewing McCarthy’s contract, and a possible salary increase for McCarthy and Assistant Chief Lawrence Reilly. Although McCarthy’s contract needs to be renewed yearly, this is the first time in NoN’s research that it has been a topic of an executive session. (Agendas on the city’s website for Fire Commission meetings go back to 2009.)

McCarthy has been the subject of allegations of racial discrimination and cronyism. In May, then NAACP Norwalk branch First Vice President Andre Williams said Mayor Harry Rilling promised before the election to fire McCarthy. Rilling denied it.

“There was never any promises or comments made like that,” Rilling said in May. “If I ever talked about any department heads before the primary and before the election and even after, I just said there are people who need to be held accountable and they’re going to be on my radar and I’m going to make sure they’re accountable or else they need to start looking elsewhere. That’s all I’ve ever said. I never mentioned any names.”

Asked last week about the Fire Commission and McCarthy, Rilling said, “That’s for executive session discussion; we can’t discuss that.”

According to his contract, McCarthy serves at the pleasure of the mayor, but requires a 90-day notice before his hiring anniversary date for removal.

Personnel Director Emmet Hibson said on Wednesday that McCarthy’s contract runs to May 1.

“The Commission has 90 days to give him notice as to whether they are going to extend it, whether they are going to issue a new contract or they are going to end his term, or whatever they’re going to do; they have 90 days to do that. So I think Jan. 30th is the date by which they have to make some decision,” Hibson said.

Hibson said McCarthy was initially hired for a four- or five-year term. “At the end of that term if he wasn’t given 90 days’ notice it automatically extended for one year,” he said. “Now it’s on automatic one-year extensions.”


20 responses to “Norwalk Fire Commission mulling McCarthy’s continued employment”

  1. Are you for real.

    In my opinion, Denis should not get re-elected as Chief. I think it is time Norwalk looks for a person with more compassion for the men that serve this wonderful city and put their lives on the line on a daily basis. I do not think Denis is the man for the job. Denis shows way to much favoritism and does not stand behind his men when they seem to be having personal issues that could effect work performance. I do see that his Emergency Management “friend” has worked her way to the top. Maybe some searching into the department and raises should be looked at. I hope Norwalk gets a Chief that will serve Norwalk in the best capacity as well as have a true meaning and understanding of the men working under him. I am sure Mayor Rilling will do what is best for Norwalk, since he was a Chief f Police at one time before becoming Mayor.Mayor Rilling will stand up for the Firefighters of Norwalk,I have much faith in him as the leader of Norwalk !

  2. Oldtimer

    Doesn’t McCarthy live in Fairfield ? If his contract is not extended, it would make sense to name a local resident, or make moving to Norwalk, a condition in the next chief’s contract, in my opinion. Before Mayor Rilling was made Chief of police, it was made clear to him, I believe, that moving out of town would hurt his chances of the chief’s job.

  3. Anonymous

    I agree with old timer. We shouldn’t stop there, we should pick the next school superintendent from within the city as well. That way we guarantee that nothing will ever change.


    The chief should be reappointed. The Norwalk Fire Department seems to be very well run. I do agree that he should live in Norwalk and not Fairfield. Also the Police Chief should not be living in Stratford. I believe that all city employees should live where they work. Hopefully when the time comes for the police chiefs contact renewal we will look outside of the NPD for someone that truly understands community policing.

  5. piberman

    The majority of City employees live outside the City for various reasons – lower taxes, better schools and property appreciation are often cited. So why pick on the Chief ? From most accounts the Chief runs a highly respected professional organization so there’s every expectation of reappointment. Anyway its the call of the Commission and Mayor. Citizens have little, if any, say in appointing City officials. We depend on our elected and appointed leaders to make sound appointments.

  6. OMG!!!!

    I have to ask, in what capacity did he, or is he doing a good job? I implore you to get all the facts prior to simply blindly following the crowd. Maybe you mean how the department numbers decreased in minority representation during his tenure, including documented racially insensitive comments or maybe you mean paying your friends for work on the new firehouse construction and IT installation, then endorsing them on their new businesses website. I was under the impression that those construction jobs went to bid, or if taxpayers are paying the city IT department employees, why are we paying a firefighter to do IT work and get paid. If our IT department can’t do the installation wouldn’t that be part of the bidding process? Can he even do that?
    Cronyism, if there is a good reason for these actions explain? I tend to think cronyism and using taxpayer dollars without going through the proper procedures would violate the cities excellent code of ethics, touted in a recent article. Let’s take a look to see if any rules we’re violated, then we can determine how good of a job he’s doing, and at the same time check to see if our code of ethics really means anything.
    For sure the minority community is against a contract extension for him, hopefully the mayor remembers the great support he received from that large segment of the community before he or the fire commissioners, make a decision that will have a long lasting affect on the community as a whole.
    Not the right fit for our community, hire from within someone that lives here and treats all department members with respect.

  7. Anonymous

    OMG: why did the minority levels drop? Could it have anything to do with the “drop pension?” What did Chief Verda and Chief Anderson do to increase minority hires? They did NOTHING. It’s not McCarthy’s fault that the few minorities taking the exam don’t score high enough. Unless you think the exam should be fixed?

  8. OMG!!!!

    Agreed Anon, that’s the point, no one has made an attempt. Verda had affirmative action in 1986 (ten hired I think), Anderson was there for a year, not much he could have done. Your guy has had ten years and if you ask those drop pension folks, do you think they left because of the climate created by your guy?
    That’s the point ace, no one is asking those that are making complaints, instead people like you are blindly defending.
    Lets bring affirmative action to Norwalk and eliminate the chief in the hiring process, nationally some cities were forced to do this.
    Get the facts and don’t blindly defend it shows you really don’t care and the status quo is your cup of tea. Lets get all those folks, including yourself in a room and you can defend your position till the cows come home, count me in. At least you will have heard both sides of the story which appears you don’t want to hear. It is true, ignorance is bliss!

  9. Anonymous

    My bad. I didn’t know Verda only hired once during his entire tenure. Too bad, would have loved to see what he would have done with the other hiring lists… Was that the test with 2 lists and political pay backs? Oh, why have a test that’s fair and doesn’t discriminate? That’s right, if we did, we wouldn’t be able to take care of our political allies and complain that it’s unfair if we failed. Wonder why the superintendent of schools is leaving our city? Look in the mirror and you’ll have to look no further.

  10. Al Raymond

    It is my belief that if someone is the head of any department in the city of Norwalk the first requirement would be you have to live in the city. I would like it to be anyone that works for the city of Norwalk has to live here I mean anyone, if you get a check from the city of Norwalk you need to live in Norwalk . Here is why I say this, if you live here you would take more pride in your job , god forbid an emergency comes up & we need your exp tease we would not have to wait for you to drive from say Danbury or Fairfield your already here . Next you would be spending your money in the city that you work & live in. I am just saying work ,live , play & pay in the city of Norwalk. MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

  11. OMG!!!!

    What Anon? I took a moment(less than 5 minutes)to review some facts for the folks who don’t like facts and continue to ignore them.
    Alex Knopp made Anderson chief so he could capture the election with the segment of Norwalk he desperately needed, one year later Anderson was removed by Knopp. The city went on a national search for a new chief, 3 were chosen, one from Utah, Stamford and Westport, so much for a national search.
    At that time our current chief was seen at city budget meetings BEFORE he was hired, do you really believe this was a coincidence? C’MON MAN!!
    On a side note, Anderson served 2 years as fire chief in Greenwich immediately after leaving Norwalk, GREENWICH!!!! So bringing up his name was silly, he never got a REAL opportunity in Norwalk, which speaks volumes about our city in a negative way, you threw blame at the African American, a normal response from those protecting the status quo and our racially insensitive leaders.
    Another side note folks, Knopp has been named to a civil rights leadership position, ironic huh?
    Get back to us with some REAL facts that support your position, please so we can have an intelligent discussion!
    If anyone finds my information inaccurate please let me know so I’ll have correct facts, as to not blindly be a follower.
    Political agenda’s are the problem, if we could eliminate that b.s. we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but then NON may not exist.

  12. Anonymous

    Why did Chief Anderson leave Greenwhich??? I believe the city has somebody who was in charge of recruiting minorities??? Maybe that certain somebody is to blame for the lack of minority applicants?? But that would mean taking responsibility and I’m sure that would never happen. Easier to blame others. Maybe you get the job even if you fail the test? Imagine if that happened? You get the job, but fail the test. Sounds crazy doesn’t it?

  13. truth hurts

    Did the FD have people go to all over town to try and recruit minorities? Yes they did. Did more minorities take the last test? I don’t know. You can try and blame it on “Well, they don’t want to work for that guy” But do you really think the average person on the street knows/cares about the chief? You can’t make somebody want to do that job if they had no interest in it to begin with. If you do that you end up with workers who have bad attitudes and a sense of entitlement. Is that good for norwalk??
    What the NAACP really wants is to handout jobs to people they think should get them.
    As usual the NAACP twists “issues” and “comments” into a racial issue where no racial issue exists.
    bottom line – people who actually want a job will actually do stuff to try and get the job they want. If they don’t then they don’t deserve it above people who do try. NO MATTER THERE COLOR/RACE/RELIGION/WHATEVER
    One last point – I’ve lived here my whole life. Everybody knows Sandy is a great guy. But black, white, or green the guy was incompetent at best in that position. A not so well kept secret, because he is a good guy.

  14. Tim D

    Based on comments above – if OMG!!!, Truth Hurts and Anon are associated with the Norwalk Fire Dep’t it must truly be toxic place.

  15. Scott

    It would be wonderful for city employees to live in town but we all know the cost of living here. All I ever hear from people on this and other sites is how overpaid city employees are. You. Can’t have your cake and eat it too. If I hadn’t purchased my home when I did (just before the Esposito revaluation that hurt everyone) I never could have afforded my home, and that’s wirh two incomes in the household. The police have a requirement but I believe that’s 50 miles. I’m sure anything beyond the ordinance employees (directors) which are appointed someone would successfully challenge the constitutionality of such a requirement. I will say that working where I live makes me take more pride in my work because I CAN see it from my house.

  16. The Deal

    @ Tim D
    Food for thought; The Common Council, P & Z, B.O.E., Maritime Center, NEON, Parking Authority, DTC, etc……Norwalk IS toxic! Even Moccia’s getting out. “Merry” Christmas everyone!

  17. OMG!!!!

    Wrong on me working at such a racist place, I’ve been following the antics of the department since the late seventies, as a concerned non racist citizen.
    The Deal nailed it, its the town! The problem is no one cares who can make change.
    Some of the comments by a few show that race relations in Norwalk are terrible.
    Let’s leave the chief alone so he can continue his agenda, whatever that may be, give him a 20 year contract that will be enough time I believe.
    Sad sack city is an embarrassment locally and nationally in regard to race relations.
    I’m running out of here like Moccia, smartest thing he ever did.
    Good luck minorities!!

  18. Michael Foley

    Should Chief McCarthy’s contract be extended? Did Chief McCarthy do a good job? Did he do all he could to get minorities to apply and take the test? Was Chief McCarty racially insensitive? These are the questions that need to be answered. Should the next Chief, when there is to be one, live in Norwalk? Will or should the next Chief come from the current ranks of the Norwalk Fire Department or outside? I am not sure what the answers are, but all things should be considered. The Chief’s fate will be in the hands of The Mayor and the Fire Commissioners for sure. I do feel that there are current members of the Fire department that are very capable to fulfill the Chiefs role, if change were to take place. The command structure in place at the Norwalk Fire Department is so that the next Chief is groomed from the inside, so employees strive to work harder, get better educated, to serve our community and our residents. I think the next new Chief, if there is going to be one, is already employed at the Norwalk Fire Department and he is sitting in the next office to Chief McCarthy.

    Michael Foley
    Retired Lieutenant
    Norwalk Fire Department
    31Yrs of Service

  19. Oyster

    Perhaps if Mr. McCarthy were as concerned with efforts to increase diversity in his force as he is with renovating every firehouse in Norwalk, he would have more success.

    Perhaps if the city were using real performance standards to measure his performance and that of his department, we wouldn’t be left to guage his performance by how we “feel” he’s doing. Remember the classic callout by former Councilman Miklave during budgeet fights of yore?


  20. faba

    The Mayor’s hand-picked fire commissioners are the experts to be judging Chief McCarthy on the charges of cronyism and favoritism.

    If he loses his job because he was found to have done a good job with pandering for political favors, he should consider a run for Mayor.

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