Re­tir­ing fire chief re­flects on his 13 years

Scan­dari­ato im­proved pro­to­cols, re­struc­tured depart­ment and more

The Day - - REGION - By CLAIRE BESSETTE Day Staff Writer

Nor­wich — Fire Chief Ken­neth Scan­dari­ato looked over the list of tasks for­mer City Man­ager Richard Po­durgiel gave him back in 2005 and re­al­ized he had checked off ev­ery item.

With that, he said, he felt it was time to re­tire from the po­si­tion he has held for the past 13 years and leave new tasks and is­sues for a suc­ces­sor to tackle.

Scan­dari­ato an­nounced his plans to re­tire ef­fec­tive Sept. 6 but said he plans to stay in the Nor­wich area and looks for­ward to serv­ing the city and re­gion as a “sub­ject mat­ter expert” from time to time and find­ing other new op­por­tu­ni­ties. He and his wife, Carol, have three grown chil­dren and three grand­chil­dren.

“Given that I’m 63, and we’ve ac­com­plished a lot,” Scan­dari­ato said Thursday, “it’s time to step away and let some­one else take it for­ward.”

He high­lighted sev­eral things he felt were top ac­com­plish­ments, in­clud­ing im­prov­ing train­ing and safety pro­to­cols, re­build­ing the depart­ment’s in­fra­struc­ture and man­age­ment struc­ture and even en­sur­ing that the Greeneville neigh­bor­hood has a com­mu­nity meet­ing space in the Greeneville fire sta­tion.

When Scan­dari­ato ar­rived in

2005, he said Nor­wich was known as the city “that’s al­ways burn­ing.” Ar­son fires were fre­quent and were con­sum­ing re­sources, time and caus­ing in­juries to fire­fight­ers. Nor­wich Fire Depart­ment beefed up its in­ves­ti­ga­tions and co­or­di­nated with Nor­wich po­lice. Scan­dari­ato’s list of ac­com­plish­ments in­cludes a no­ta­tion in bold, red type: “40 ar­son con­vic­tions made.”

“We have en­hanced pub­lic safety here to the point where those types of in­ci­dents have de­creased sig­nif­i­cantly,” he said.

The list also says Scan­dari­ato has been in com­mand of 78 first-alarm fires and 42 mul­ti­alarm in­ci­dents and con­ducted 51 fire in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

An­other prob­lem Scan­dari­ato no­ticed soon af­ter he ar­rived in Nor­wich was the high num­ber of va­cant, ne­glected mill or com­mer­cial build­ings in the hearts of densely pop­u­lated neigh­bor­hoods. The fire depart­ment worked with the city Build­ing Depart­ment, Pub­lic Works, po­lice and with build­ing own­ers to clear away over­grown brush and weeds, re­move com­bustible de­bris and se­cure the build­ings. The depart­ment cre­ated ac­tion plans if fires were to oc­cur in build­ings iden­ti­fied as haz­ardous.

When Nor­wich Emer­gency Man­age­ment Di­rec­tor Gene Arters died un­ex­pect­edly in Jan­uary 2017, City Man­ager John Salomone named Scan­dari­ato to head that depart­ment in ad­di­tion to his fire chief and fire mar­shal duties. Scan­dari­ato said the fire chief and emer­gency man­age­ment po­si­tions are com­bined in many cities, and he agreed with the move. He also agreed with Salomone that an as­sis­tant or deputy needs to be named to work on is­sues when the fire chief is oc­cu­pied with ac­tive fires.

Scan­dari­ato en­listed the Lau­rel Hill Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment to as­sist with a ma­jor task of over­haul­ing the Emer­gency Man­age­ment Depart­ment head­quar­ters on McKin­ley Av­enue, dis­card­ing out­dated and bro­ken equip­ment and old ve­hi­cles rarely used, in­stalling new stor­age shelves and paint­ing the en­tire fa­cil­ity.

“I’m very proud of the fact that, with some ex­cel­lent help, we brought the EOC (Emer­gency Oper­a­tions Cen­ter) from 1950 to 2018,” Scan­dari­ato said.

The com­plex Nor­wich fire ser­vices sys­tem of one cen­tral city paid depart­ment and five vol­un­teer de­part­ments has caused fric­tion, fi­nan­cial and po­lit­i­cal de­bates for decades. Scan­dari­ato has not been im­mune from that con­tro­versy.

He said Thursday that the two sys­tems can be im­proved and even can be­come “a model” for the state. But he said it would take co­or­di­nated ef­forts headed by city ad­min­is­tra­tion and the City Coun­cil.

“I still be­lieve that the vol­un­teer ser­vice is a nec­es­sary com­po­nent, as well as the ca­reer ser­vice, in its present form,” Scan­dari­ato said. “We just need to col­lab­o­rate bet­ter. We could be a model for the state of Con­necti­cut.”

Both Scan­dari­ato and the city’s long­est tenured vol­un­teer chief, Frank Blan­chard in Yan­tic, both said “on the ground” fire­fight­ers and chiefs set aside po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sive­ness and work strongly to­gether. Blan­chard cred­ited Scan­dari­ato for im­prov­ing fire­fight­ing safety pro­to­cols used by all city de­part­ments.

“He im­ple­mented a lot of poli­cies in his depart­ment shared through­out all the de­part­ments,” Blan­chard said. “It was a great im­prove­ment to fire­fighter safety on the ground . ... All of our time spent on the fire grounds to­gether, stren­u­ous as those jobs and po­si­tions may be, ev­ery­one got home safely.”

SEAN D. EL­LIOT/THE DAY

In this file photo, Nor­wich city fire depart­ment Chief Ken­neth Scan­dari­ato, right, di­rects oper­a­tions as fire­fight­ers bat­tle a blaze at Boyd’s Used Auto Parts in Nor­wich on March 22.

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