Tag Archives: Westport Fire Department

Joe Valiante’s Badge, George Bush’s Library

Joe Valiante spent 35 years with the Westport Fire Department. He fought some of the town’s toughest fires, and rose through the ranks to become assistant chief.

When he was not working, the 1961 Staples High School graduate rode with New York City’s Rescue 1. Based on 43rd Street near the Intrepid, the elite company faces situations seldom seen in Westport.

But nothing could have prepared them for September 11, 2001.

The next day, Valiante rode with them to the still-smoldering World Trade Center. For a week he worked the bucket brigade, hauling material from the site.

Joe Valiante (center, in white) working at Ground Zero.

Valiante was there 4 days later, when President Bush addressed the volunteers through a bullhorn.

Valiante was back a year later too, on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. In fact, he was in the honor guard (with fellow local firefighter Todd Denke). After the ceremony, Bush stopped to chat.

Joe Valiante and George W. Bush, on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. Just before the photographer took this photo, a Secret Service agent diverted the president’s attention.

Valiante then gave the president his Westport assistant fire chief badge.

The next year, Valiante retired. From time to time, he wondered what became of his gift.

Joe Valiante’s Westport Fire Department badge.

Last January, Valiante took his grandson to Trump Tower. They watched a parade of famous people — Ben Carson, Kellyanne Conway, Senator Joe Manchin and others — head through the lobby to meet the president-elect.

Fox News correspondent John Roberts was there as well. Valiante asked if he knew what happens to the gifts people give to presidents. Roberts told him to contact the George W. Bush Presidential Library, at Southern Methodist University.

Valiante emailed the curator. Then he forgot about it.

A month ago, a library official got back to Valiante. She knew exactly where his Westport badge was.

It’s in the permanent collection.

Joe Valiante has not been down to Dallas to see it. But he doesn’t have to.

Just knowing it’s there makes him proud.

The front page of the New York Post on September 12, 2002. Joe Valiante (white hat) is in the lower right corner.

 

Westporters Fight Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Westport’s Domestic Violence Task Force wants to make everyone aware of the issue — and what can be done about it.

The group has collected gift certificates from more than a dozen local salons. (One owner donated because her mother was a victim of abuse.) Haircuts and colors help women in shelters start new lives. Some are preparing for job interviews. Others need to change their appearance to avoid abusers.

The salons will be thanked on Saturday, October 14, at the Westport Unitarian Church Voices Cafe. All proceeds from Pierce Pettis’ performance will be donated to the salon drive. (Click here for tickets.)

Meanwhile, this Sunday (October 1), pinwheels will be displayed on Jesup Green. There’s one for every domestic violence call the Police Department received this year.

The chilling reminder that domestic abuse happens in Westport — as it does everywhere — remains on display all month.

Next Tuesday (October 3), volunteers from our police and fire departments will join Domestic Violence Task Force members at the Westport and Greens Farms train stations. They’ll hand out informational palm cards to commuters.

And on Wednesday, October 25 (Unitarian Church, 7 p.m.), Lisa Aronson Fontes — a noted author, therapist, researcher and professor — will discuss coercive control in relationships.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month ends on October 31. Of course, the issue will not go away that day.

But in Westport, concerned citizens are doing all they can to help.

Firefighters Come Through

A dramatic house fire shut down Saugatuck Avenue today, near Saugatuck Shores.

“06880” reader Michelle Benner reports that Westport, Norwalk, Weston, Fairfield and Stamford fire departments — and chiefs — were all there.

The fire burned for over an hour and a half. An hour in, the owners had a fireman pull a vintage red sports car out of the garage.

The Saugatuck Avenue fire today. (Photo/Westport Fire Department)

Stamford’s department arrived with a special truck to refill oxygen tanks.

Eversource came 45 minutes in to cut the line from the utility pole. It took a while because they couldn’t drive  the truck over the hose connected to the hydrant (which was fortunately right across the street from the burning house). The line had to cut it by hand with a long pole, instead of using the cherry picker.

Firefighters brought hoses into the house, and fought the fire from inside. Water shot up out of the roof, as flames and black/brown smoke continued to pour out.

“It was heartbreaking to see,” Michelle says. “Thankfully, it appears no one got hurt.”

“But it was heartwarming to see the firefighters working together, the other towns coming in to help, and how protective the chiefs were of their men.

“The guys who climb out on the ladder to fight the fire from above are especially brave!”

The fire burned for nearly 2 hours. (Photo/Michelle Benner)

Marpe: Police, Fire Pension Contracts Now Up For Ratification

Following this morning’s post on the Westport police union’s stance on pension contract negotiations, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe issued this statement:

Both the police and firefighter union executive boards have reached agreement with the town on their pension contracts, and are presenting them to their membership for ratification.

We value all Westport employees including those in our public safety departments and are pleased that these agreements have been reached.

Ratification or rejection of those pension contracts is the next step. “06880” will report on those votes, when they are taken.

Connector Accident Sends 6 To Hospital

Traffic slowed to a crawl on the Sherwood Island Connector today, after a 3-vehicle accident sent 6 people to the hospital.

The crash — opposite the transfer station — involved a car, a pickup truck and a landscaping truck and trailer.

One of the drivers had to be extricated. Her condition was reported to be serious.

The aftermath of today’s 3-vehicle accident on the Sherwood Island Connector. (Photo/Ryan Gleicher)

Firefighters at work on one of the vehicles in today’s crash. (Photo/Westport Fire Department)

Town Throws Cold Water On Firefighters’ Negotiations

As politicians, taxpayers and other stakeholders debate next year’s town budget, much of the focus is on education. That’s no surprise: It comprises the bulk of our spending; it involves kids and buildings, and everyone has their own school experiences to draw on, good or bad.

But we pay for many other services. Most are less visible than education. Lots of those negotiations take place outside the public eye.

One of those involves firefighters’ benefits and pensions. The other day, Nick Marsan laid out their case. It’s got some surprising twists — like a proposal to take away death benefits for families of firefighters killed in the line of duty. There are also decreases in healthcare for firefighters and their families after retirement.

Nick Marsan (Photo/Laura Weiss for Hearst Connecticut Media)

The firefighters’ pension contract — which is different from the work contract — expired last summer. Marsan — president of the 64-member Westport Uniformed Firefighters Local 1081 — and his team met with town officials for a few negotiating sessions.

After what Marsan calls “a short process,” the town declared an impasse. The contract is now in the hands of state-appointed arbitrators.

The union president is disappointed. “We walked into negotiations expecting the town was not going to change anything for existing personnel,” Marsan says. “We thought we’d be talking about future hires only.” Instead, the town also included current firefighters in their pension proposals.

Marsan says the town “pulled the rug out from people who have been here 25, 30 years. They now might have to make hasty decisions to protect benefits they’ve worked all their careers to achieve. They could lose 6% of what they’d get if they retire now, and possibly cost-of-living benefits.”

The proposal to take away family benefits for a firefighter killed in action is particularly disheartening.

“I’m speaking for my brothers and sisters. I think we’re a class act,” Marsan says.

“We go above and beyond, to provide a service to the town. We do it with a smile. We’ll never not be there for residents. But I think this is an ideological attack on us.”

Marsan notes, “I have a master’s degree. I could be in the private sector. People don’t join the fire service to get rich. We come, we work hard, we sacrifice 30 years of our lives for the municipality.

“We leave with aches and pains. We’re 68% more susceptible to cancer than the general population. All we ask is continued support for our retirement, and the benefits we were promised.”

He knows that “pensions” is a political minefield these days. But, Marsan says, there are a number of misconceptions about firefighters’ benefits. He says that pensions are based on base salary only — not overtime. His members pay 10% of their salaries into the pension fund. Westport’s fund, he says, is “one of the best in the state.”

He continues: “I’m a big boy. I’ve been through a lot worse than this — I’ve been in combat overseas. But this is tough to watch, especially for guys who have been here a lot longer than I have, and will do anything for the town.”

He appreciates the “brand” of Westport, and recites its “jewels”: “incredible beaches, a beautiful library, great arts, a fantastic education system.”

But, he says, “people who buy homes here also know the fire and police services are top-notch.”

Marsan concludes, “This is a living, breathing town. We’re not looking to break the bank. We choose this profession, and we know we’ll spend a lot of time away from our families.

“I don’t live in a vacuum. I understand the town has responsibilities to taxpayers. But we are a human resource. We should be valued.

“We just want to be taken care of. If I die in the line of duty, I want to make sure my wife and kid are taken care of.”

An arbitration decision could be made by mid-May.

Fire Up This Survey

Most of us have never needed the Fire Department to race to our homes or business.

But nearly all of us have had some interaction with Westport firefighters. They help out during medical emergencies, weather emergencies, even routine inspections.

Now the Fire Department wants to know: How are we doing?

fire-departmentThe town’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee has designed a community survey. Just a few minutes long, it will identify current areas of strength, and help plan for the future.

The second part is important. Westport has changed substantially since our fire stations were built.

(Case in point: The “new” firehouse across from 5 Guys replaced a much smaller station on Church Lane. It was repurposed in 1978 as the YMCA fitness center. That building long outlived its usefulness, and is now being incorporated into Bedford Square.)

Our firefighters are no longer volunteers; they’re full professionals. Their vehicles, equipment and methods have all evolved.

The Saugatuck fire station, in its long-time location on Riverside Avenue.

The Saugatuck fire station, in its long-time location on Riverside Avenue.

The size of residential houses — and construction materials used — continues to grow. So do our office buildings.

Also increasing: the number of calls the Fire Department answers on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway.

The survey is part of a broader study. Town officials must answer questions like: Are our fire stations located in the right places? How should we think about new technologies like drones and robotics?

Your input can help. Please click here for the survey. It runs through October 9.

The Vigilant Firehouse on Wilton Road, circa 1977. It now houses the Neat coffeehouse and and wine bar.

The Vigilant Firehouse on Wilton Road, circa 1977. It now houses the Neat coffeehouse and and wine bar.

 

Firing Up Westport Volunteers

If you’re like many Connecticut residents, when you hear of wildfires in the West you think, “What a shame.”

Then — if you’re like me — you move on to news of the next catastrophe.

Michael Kronick and Robert Yost are doing more. Much more.

Robert Yost

Robert Yost

The pair — members of the Westport Fire Department — are actually fighting those fires.

They’re part of a 20-member Connecticut crew that’s battling the Black Fire in Idaho.

This is Yost’s 1st volunteer effort. Kronick, meanwhile, has served in the Western US several times, most recently last year in Northern California.

And that’s the key: It’s all volunteer. Westport’s firefighters are using their own vacation and time off to help save land and homes — and risking their own lives to do so.

Alert “06880” reader Steve Axthelm think that’s crazy.

“These 2 men are very courageous and generous,” he says.

Michael Kronick“But don’t you think we as a town and community ought to sponsor them — at least in part — so they don’t have to use vacation or personal time to help out there? Wouldn’t it be a fair and appropriate contribution to the needs of our fellow Americans?”

It would indeed. If you’ve got an idea of how to make that happen, click “Comments” below.

Michael Kronick and Robert Yost are doing plenty. Helping them is the least we can do.

Happy 4th From The FD

The 4th of July is not exactly a greeting-card holiday.

But the Westport Fire Department sent this photo — and best wishes — to the town today:

Westport Fire Department

Members of Platoon pose in traditional military green fire t-shirts. They show the department’s patriotism — and honor its many members who are military veterans.

The note says: “The Westport Fire Department asks all citizens to remember in your thoughts and prayers your public servants this 4th of July. Likewise, the members of Platoon 1, who are on duty this July 4th, wish all citizens a safe and blessed holiday.”

Thanks to Platoon 1 — and all of our firefighters — for all they do, for all of us.

One Woman’s Lament

I got a call yesterday from an older Westport woman. Her voice shook.

Around 11:20 the night before, she said, a flickering light bulb burst into flames. Panicked, she called 911.

Fire DepartmentAlmost immediately, police officers and firefighters arrived — sirens blazing, lights blaring. The fire chief came too. All were wonderful. The fire was put out. They stayed to help her clean up, and calm her down.

But that’s not why she called me.

She’s lived on her private road for 51 years. She raised her kids here, in a friendly, social, tight-knit neighborhood.

But despite all the commotion Friday night, she said, no one came over to see what was going on.

And no one called Saturday, to see how she was.

Several years ago, her son gave her contact information to neighbors. He asked them to check in on her, from time time — and in an emergency, do what they could.

Of course, they said. We’re happy to do that.

This weekend though, no one did.

“Last night was very scary,” she said, hours after the fire.

“But now I’m more hurt than scared.”