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May 25, 2020
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Fire Commissioner Peter Criscuolo (left) gets a lift from firefighter Dan Spetland to test the 100-foot reach on the North Haven Fire Department’s new tower truck.

Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier

Fire Commissioner Peter Criscuolo (left) gets a lift from firefighter Dan Spetland to test the 100-foot reach on the North Haven Fire Department’s new tower truck. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

His Greatest Honor: Fire Commissioner

Published May 01, 2019

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Throughout his career, Peter Criscuolo has been a state marshal and a political campaigner, but he says that his greatest honor has been his long tenure on the North Haven Board of Fire Commissioners.

Though he lives in North Haven today, Peter says he was involved with many political campaigns in his native New Haven for much of his life. He’s also a former chairman of the North Haven Democratic Town Committee.

“That was a great honor also,” he says. “I’ve had a long political history, but nothing matches being a fire commissioner. Fire commissioner is a very exciting and honorable position to be in.”

He joined the board when one of the previous commissioners retired. As a state marshal, Peter was interested in the workings of fire departments.

“I was intrigued by the department, how dangerous the job is…I wanted to be part of it,” Peter says. “I want to leave the department better than I found it.”

But he had a lot to learn when he first started.

“Most of them are retired, but [the firefighters] taught me a lot,” he says. “I have a lot of stories from each and every one.”

With almost 24 years of experience on the board, Peter says he is the longest-serving elected fire commissioner in the state.

“I’ve had the pleasure of sitting with four chiefs…I’ve been through four administrations,” he says.

In that time, he’s seen the department grow and change with the makeup of the town. But he says it’s never been stronger.

“I think we have the best [fire department] in the nation right here in North Haven,” Peter says.

He says the town’s professional firefighters are always pushing themselves to maintain their health, earn promotions, and increase their education in fire safety.

Peter has also been behind programs to groom volunteer firefighters into more experienced, paid members of the team. He helped to start programs to offer volunteers tax abatements and also a leg up should they wish to become certified firefighters.

“The volunteers get extra points when they take their test to become professional firefighters…because after all, they give up their time, [time with] their families, and there’s risk of life,” Peter says.

Being a fire commissioner gave Peter the opportunity to work on many projects for the fire department throughout the years. He helped to bring the first transport ambulance to the department 20 years ago, advocated for a paramedic unit, and raised money and designed a memorial for deceased firefighters that sits outside the fire department headquarters.

“I went to St. Michael’s School. I never made the spelling bee team…but I did make the captain, the president of the math team,” Peter says. “I did learn one thing in the spelling class: There’s no ‘I’ in team. People bet on a team.”

That, he says, is the secret to fundraising for fire department equipment. The businesses that donate to his projects are donating for the safety of the town.

In 2015, he raised $83,000 to purchase a battery-operated Jaws of Life tool for the department. Earlier this year, he raised $50,000 to purchase a drone and ATV for rescues along the Quinnipiac River.

“They can go anywhere…They can run down a ravine, up the side of a hill,” Peter says.

In keeping with the theme of equipping the department for a diverse range of rescue scenarios, Peter’s new project will be to raise $25,000 to purchase bullet-proof safety vests for firefighters.

“God forbid it ever happens, they’ll be able to go into a school. Our first responders will be able to go in with vests on so they’ll be protected as well,” Peter says. “If we don’t give our firefighters the best and safest equipment and they go down, how do we help the victims?”

Peter says that his fundraising success as a fire commissioner is largely down to teamwork and the people who donate.

Though he spends a lot of his time as commissioner away from the department, working with local businesses to raise money, Peter tries to be hands-on as much as he can. He says that he visits the station two or three times a week and has even participated in live burn exercises.

When the new tower truck was delivered to the station earlier in the year, Peter says he stayed to learn about its operation and was one of the first people to go up in it.

“I want to see what the men are doing, what their feelings are, what they think, what they need,” he says.

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