Correction: For the New London Day. Attorney F. Jerome O’Malley, who represents Alan Ackley and the fire board, told us that he’d been misquoted. He never said or wrote that PBFD FY2014 run total was 1,237. He said the report generated today by Groton Dispatch, which has a 1,859 total for PBFD runs in FY2014, is correct.

PBFD and New London Groton airport crash truck on standby for arrival of the President of the United States

It’s not good to be chief
It’s not good to be Todd Paige, chief of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department. Summoned by subpoena, he testified in New London court and had to tell the truth about the risks Ackley created by forcing layoffs. Analysis of his testimony and others, as reported by The Day, will follow. But we’re not all that empathetic; Paige has spoken the truth to the district board at more than one meeting, but he never pushed a point too hard, and he admitted in public at the May 2014 annual meeting that he does what the board tells him to do, even if the board forces him to make decisions he would not and should not make as an emergency services leader. He can resign—or refuse to allow Ackley to ruin the department and jeopardize public safety and get fired for doing the right thing.

The New London Superior Court judge said that, to enjoin the layoffs, he had to answer what is a ludicrous question: Do the layoffs create an imminent danger to the firefighters and the public? The judge didn’t use the word “ludicrous” but he was attempting to predict the future for a profession that responds to unpredictability. To emergencies. To events that the best insurance actuaries can reduce only to probability. Or, in other words, is it really necessary to have a staffed airport crash truck when so few planes crash?

“At one point during the hearing,” Deborah Straszheim wrote for The Day, “[Judge] Moukawsher asked Chief Todd Paige whether the layoffs created such an imminent threat to firefighter safety that the court needed to step in today, rather than wait 30 to 60 days for the labor board to act.” Paige, even though under oath, waffled at first. Paige said he didn’t think the odds were great that somebody would be killed in the next five days, which meant he knew he could not truthfully make that statement. He could not predict the future and he failed to mention the rash of motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) over the weekend because the courtroom discussion focused only on structure fires, a very narrow focus.

Under questioning from the judge, Paige had to tell the truth. Yes, the risk to the public had increased with the layoffs. Yes, the risk to firefighters had increased with the layoffs. Yes, he would never have laid off the firefighters, and he had done so only because Ackley told him to do it. In other words, Ackley acted as chief of the department. “It’s a roll of the dice,” Paige told the judge.

Paige’s testimony was reinforced by PBFD Captain Brian Kiely, a firefighter with 20 years experience, who discussed the delays in firefighting caused by the staff reduction. Retired City of Hartford deputy chief, Scott Brady, present as an expert witness, corroborated Paige and Kiely by telling the court that “staffing and incident command problems, such as having supervisors handle firefighting tasks, contributes to line-of-duty deaths.” He added bluntly that three-man staffing was an “extremely unsafe practice,” and firefighters need two outside to enter a building with a modicum of safety.

The district rebuttal—sort of
The word “ludicrous” returns in any description of the retort by the fire district’s attorney, but he was just doing his job to make even the most insane inane statements with a straight face. It’s billable hours, and the hell with public or firefighter safety. F. Jerome O’Malley said PBFD didn’t have to handle all that many structure fires during a fiscal year, so firefighters didn’t have to roll the dice that often, nor did the public. A few working fires a year. Lose a few buildings. No big deal. That’s tacit admission that the district is asking firefighters and the public to accept more risk, tacit admission that the risk does exist, tacit admission that Ackley has no biusiness sticking his nose into decisions that belong to the chief, tacit admission that Ackley deliberately underfunded the department to shoot craps with public safety.

Nor did F. Jerome mention how understaffing affected response to other emergencies. BTW: If the district is still responding to medical calls in a pickup with two people, that leaves one firefighter on the pumper to handle a second call? An MVA? Wires down like yesterday on Midway Oval? Mutual aid into the City or the Sub Base or Center Groton?

And where are the promised qualified and certified volunteer firefighters? Why is a ladder truck purchase on the agenda for the August 14 district meeting when the district is spending thousands more on legal bills? And losing in more than one way. Losing in court and losing personnel who could be paid with the money donated to F. Jerome for just showing up in court.

The truth, your honor, nothing but
Below, your honor, if you click on the image, you’ll be taken to a YouTube video for a late April 2013 Minneapolis house fire. It’s actually the first of three videos, and the radio traffic, especially the voice of the incident commander, is important. In videos 2 and 3 of the fire, you’ll hear radio traffic for the most part.

Nothing seems to happen outside the house because the first due rescue company is in the building conducting primary search for the basement and first floor initially. But does so only with the first due engine company outside stretching an attack line. Note that the incident commander stays in constant radio contact with crews inside and outside the structure. Note that the incident commander pulls everyone out of the building when water supply problems developed, but before the water problems, an aggressive interior attack knocked down the bulk of the fire. Why inside? Because the incident commander had enough people to put crews inside with two hose lines while conducting primary search. The option for the IC with three people only on scene and a long delay for a full first alarm assignment would be exterior attack only, a defensive posture that would push fire back into the house to cause greater damage and would delay primary search.

House fire April 2013 Minneapolis with radio traffic

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B. Roberts Greer
editor, pipenozzle.com
author, Seven Two, Pipe Nozzle, Engine 10, Of Cowards and Firefighters

Firefighters 2, Ackley zero
When you have a weak case, use a legal technicality. And you don’t send Glenn Carberry to court, the attorney who usually represents Alan Ackley and the PBFD board, because Carberry’s dad was a Norwich firefighter. But then, his firm was just doing it’s job and making good money from the taxpayers thanks to Ackley.

The New London Day reported that one F. Jerome O’Malley of Tobin, Carberry, O’Malley, Riley, Selinger, PC (tcors.com) showed up in New London Superior Court this week to convince the judge that his court had no jurisdiction to rule on an injunction to stop the layoff of nine firefighters by Alan Ackiley, incompetent president of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District, The judge ruled quickly that yes, his court had jurisdiction and promised to rule on the injunction this week. Neither the public nor the firefighters can afford to wait for weeks for an arbitration ruling before seeking legal remedy. Judge Moukawsher said: “Other courts have held that, even where administrative remedies apply, safety emergencies warrant court interventions.” He cited a Waterbury case where the judgment of emergency service professionals trumped political manipulation in the decision to close or not close a firehouse. The judge added that he construed the facts presented “most favorably to the firefighters.”

The Day reporting errors
In short, firefighters 2 for labor board and New London court, Ackley zero. The injunction and state labor board cases continue and the hearing to block the layoffs will happen. Soon. Very soon. In the meantime, we decided to check on two facts construed by the New London Day incorrectly over the last two years.

Fact one: The Day repeatly states that the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District protects a population of 12,000. We sent an email to The Day asking about the source for that number, which is a nice round figure and acts like The Big Lie in propaganda. Just keep printing something again and again as if it’s true and people will begin to accept it as true no matter how false. The 12,000 number used by The Day also minimizes the responsibility of PBFD and other Groton fire/rescue/emt/hazmat departments as if each department operates strictly within its own district. Wrong.

We tried to track down that 12,000 figure and learned the following. The Town of Groton has no data, according to the clerk’s office, that gives population totals by fire districts. Nor does the US Census Bureau. The 2010 census for Groton used the following census data places (CDP): Conning Towers/Nautilus Park (Sub Base and Navy property), City of Groton, Groton Long Point, Long Hill, Mystic, Noank, Old Mystic, and Poquonnock Bridge. The population for each in order is: 8834, 9345, 518, 4205, 1238 (Groton side), 1796, 3554, 1727. Don’t see a nice round 12,000 in there anywhere.

Get out your calculator. The total for all Groton CDP: 31,217. The 2010 population total for Groton, city and town, is 41,117. Which leaves 9,900 people unaccounted for. Very strange. Notice that Center Groton and Bunett’s Corner are missing, and we’re not sure if the Old Mystic CDP straddles Groton and Stonington or not.

Fact two: The Day reporting implies that PBFD operates only within its own district. The Groton emergency services operational reality is that PBFD is the pivotal department in the town, one that responds in PBFD and Center Groton first due, and responds second due on the City and to Navy property, a total population, including the missing CDP, of 34,011 or 85% of the Groton population not including GLP, Noank, and the Mystics, although PBFD would and does respond over the hill for occasional mutual aid.

Reporting by The Day that the PBFD dispute is about one isolated fire district the size of a small town is more than dumbed down reporting. It’s bad journalism because the facts are wrong and pulled out of context.

Fact Three: PBFD has been responding to medical calls for 30 years now. That’s the real fact, not a factoid.

Firefighters 3, Ackley zero
Ackley doesn’t seem to be doing too well in New Britain superior court either in his attempt to reverse the state labor board’s ruling in favor of the PBFD firefighters. See The Day article. F. Jerome O’Malley again. The judge found that the firefighters bargained in good faith. No reason existed to reverse the labor board ruling.

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Barry Roberts Greer
editor, pipenozzle.com
author, Engine 10, Pipe Nozzle, Seven Two, Of Cowards and Firefighters

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