Sunday, January 16, 2022

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Lacking Reappointment, North Branford Fire Chief Retires

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Seward is shown here in 2019, when he was honored as one of two inaugural recipients of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Center for EMS Lifetime Achievement Award. 

File Photo/The Sound

Seward is shown here in 2019, when he was honored as one of two inaugural recipients of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Center for EMS Lifetime Achievement Award. File Photo/The Sound)

As of January 1, 2022, North Branford's Fire Chief of 16 years, William Seward III, has officially retired from the post, one month after he was not put up for reappointment to a new term by the Board of Fire Commissioners.

Members of the North Branford Fire Commission are chairman Ed Prunier, vice-chairman Joseph Civitello and commissioners Laura Burich, Ron Onofrio and Eugene Stabile.  Back in June, minutes of the commission's June 3, 2021 meeting record that the board voted unanimously to give Seward a six-month term extension rather than to appoint him to a new term of July 6, 2021 - July 5, 2024. Six months later, according to minutes of the commission's Dec. 2, 2021 meeting, no motions were made to reappoint Seward as chief; and commissioner Onofrio made a motion, seconded by commissioner Burich, to appoint Deputy Chief Anthony Esposito as Interim Chief. The motion was supported by a unanimous vote of the board.  According to the minutes of the fire commission's Jan. 6, 2022 meeting, the Dec. 2, 2021 minutes were corrected to note "Chairman Prunier asked for a motion to reappoint Chief Seward three times."

The commission's Jan. 6 meeting minutes also record that the board voted unanimously to table formation of the personnel committee to search for a new fire chief, pending research into statutes on board meeting vs. committee meeting requirements. In addition, on the expectation he will contribute approximately 20 hours per month of additional time, the board voted unanimously to compensate Esposito $822 per month, effective Jan. 1, 2022, while he is serving as Interim Fire Chief. The board also voted unanimously to approve Seward's pension request, effective January 1, 2022, for 16 years of credited service with North Branford Fire Department (NBFD).

With regard to the commission's June 3, 2021 vote giving Seward a six-month term extension, according to minutes of that meeting, "Chairman Prunier felt that the process for reappointments should be changed. He would like to have discussions with the individuals being appointed and explain the Board's expectations that should be met and then have a review in six months. He didn't think it was fair to vote on the reappointment without first having a discussion with the Chief and/or any Deputy Chief to discuss expectations. He felt that the Board wasn't doing their job properly and should have a semi-annual review process and discuss performance objectives. Board members agreed that a new process should be put in place with periodic reviews for all chiefs. It was decided to establish expectations within a month which must be reasonable and attainable. Commissioner Onofrio made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Burich, to extend the Chief's term for six months and the Board would determine expectations and then meet with the Chief to discuss expectations and to continue this process for all the chiefs and then decide the direction at that time."

A Jan. 13 request sent via email to Prunier from the Zip06/The Sound for a comment from the commission on the chief's departure from NBFD received a response on Jan. 15. With apologies for the belated response, Prunier noted via email that, "at this time," he and and the board have "no comment" on Seward's departure. Prunier also noted,"...I would personally like to wish the Chief a happy and healthy retirement."

Reached Jan. 13 by Zip06/The Sound, North Branford Town Manager Michael Paulhus deferred to the fire commission chair for any comments.

Zip06/The Sound also spoke with Seward on Jan. 13, who had no comment beyond sharing a message he had posted on his personal Facebook page on January 1, 2022, which reads as follows:

"To all those I call friends, as of this date I have retired as the Fire Chief in the town of North Branford. Since taking this part time position back in 2005, I have had the distinct opportunity to work with many local, state and federal officials which demonstrated that cooperation, collaboration and effective communications could make a difference in a suburban community. As a progressive fire and EMS service, we have made many positive changes and improvements in service delivery that are transparent to most. Working alongside dedicated members of the department has been very rewarding and made my job easier. At some point in the near future there will be a new fire chief. Their job will be challenged by limited financial resources, the need to replace an aging fleet of apparatus, implementing a new communications system and carrying out an aggressive recruitment and retention program. Not only is the fire chief responsible for the daily management and administration of the organization but they must ensure that 'everyone goes home' following each response. That being said, the health, safety and welfare of every volunteer must be a priority. This is not a job one can manage effectively working 19 hours a week. Some may ask what lies in my future. I guess I can say, enjoying life and my family, continuing to officiate the great sport of ice hockey and working as a part time instructor at the CT Fire Academy (where I have worked for nearly 25+ years). Working in the fire service is not a job - it's been a calling and profession that I have enjoyed immensely."

Seward had served as North Branford's Fire Chief since 2005. He also served for 30 years with the New Haven Fire Department, where he held the roles of Firefighter/Paramedic, Lieutenant, Captain, and Director of Training; completing his work for the City of New Haven in 2008 as the commanding officer of the training academy.  In addition to gaining four decades of emergency service experience in the field, Seward is a graduate of the University of New Haven with an A.S. in Fire/Occupational Safety and a B.S. in Fire Administration. Seward's past service to the Town includes that of its Emergency Management Director. For the region, he chaired Region 2 ESF-10, New Haven area Special Hazards Team and served as a member of the New Haven FBI EOD/WMD Task Force. Additionally, Seward was appointed as a safety officer for the CT West Incident Management team and the Hazmat (ESF-10) representative to the State of CT Homeland Security Working Group. In 2019, Seward was honored as one of two inaugural recipients of the Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) Center for EMS Lifetime Achievement Award.

This story has been updated from its Jan. 14 original posting date to include a response from the chair of the Fire Commission received Jan. 15.


Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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