At least during the April 2014 PBFD board meeting, Alan Ackley remained calm, although the absurdity continued when the Deputy Chief Curt Floyd confronted the board with the reality that PBFD apparatus is wearing out. Engine 33, the pumper that also serves as a rescue rig (usually called a squad in the big city) for I-95 and elsewhere has 109,000 miles on the odometer and 10,000 service hours on it. It needs to be replaced; it is overdue for replacement. And, the Deputy told Ackley and the Do Nothings, that the only option would be to take Engine 33 out of service when the department leadership could no longer assure safe operation.

The Deputy was ignored when he mentioned the offer still on the table to buy the ladder truck that’s been out of service for two years, the ladder truck that remains parked outside at the dump losing value each day. The Deputy was ignored when he mentioned that it was time to think about buying a combination pumper/ladder of some type since the ladder was out of service, given that the district currently has nothing but ground ladders that reach 24 feet, or two stories, in a district with apartment buildings and a major hotel with three or four or more stories.  At the February 16 third floor kitchen fire at The Ledges apartments, the first due PBFD apparatus was the pickup truck that happened to be out on a medical call.

Even when the Deputy gave ballpark figures for purchasing either a quint* at $800,000 or a $600,000 pumper, the Ackley slugs just sat there. The only response was the usual. Do research over the next two months and get back to us. I believe Ron Yuhas, the board’s intellectual, offered that gem. The Deputy asked for some general guidelines from the board before he conducted the research. Quint or pumper or pumper with a ladder that could at least reach three floors? This is not like shopping for a new Volvo. The Chief reminded the board that a tech committee had to be formed to spec the apparatus, and then they’d get back to the board, but it was not possible to get the committee together because of the mess the board had created with the union contract. Hell, the fire district could no longer even afford training and would have limited participation at the airport drill scheduled at the end of April. The airport firefighters would be there, the state police would be there, the National Guard would be there, but not PBFD, which is first due when the airport firefighters go home for the night, and second due at all other times.

But the Do Nothings who like being Know Nothings just did not get it. That conversation ended when Ackley’s brother spoke up and lectured the Chief and the Deputy on democracy, the comic relief of the night. A board elected by manipulating rules and rigging a vote lectures two responsible fire officials, experts in their field, on democracy rather than making the decisions the board needs to make to meet its responsibility to the public, including the few who elected them. Besides, it is not direct democracy. A special district board is run by representative democracy. Those on the board represent the voters and their interests in things such as fire prevention and fire protection. The board is still quibbling over the union contract, wasting taxpayer money on legal fees that could be used to replace equipment. Rather than allow a grade school digression on democracy, the chair of the board needed to keep the discussion focused on the pragmatic matter of having reliable equipment operating in the district. But he said nothing. The taxpayers elect the board, the board governs, or in the case of PBFD, a few taxpayers elect a packed board in a rigged vote, and then the board obstructs.

If you plan to live in a Groton apartment complex on Drozdyk Drive or elsewhere in PBFD, be sure to look for a first floor apartment with a door that opens outside, meaning out of the building. If you are looking for a nursing home or assisted living or a senior apartment for grandma, the last place to look would be the PBFD fire district in Groton, Connecticut. Evacuation is paramount in any fire, but even more so in buildings that house non-ambulatory residents, meaning people in wheelchairs or people with dementia or people who shuffle along with a walker. See this 2012 NFPA report on fires in health care facilities, including nursing homes and hospices. Or read all about the fire at 12:35 a.m. January 23, 2014 at the Résidence du Havre nursing home in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec, Canada, that killed an estimated 32 people and injured 15 others. Estimated because some bodies were burned beyond recognition.

Or how about that March 27, 2014, New Jersey nursing home fire that killed one and displaced 100. Or how about the truck that exploded right next to a Washington state nursing home on April 7, 2014. Nope. Not to worry. Let’s talk about democracy.

Or ask Greer. The first 24 hours after his 6-hour 1982 cancer surgery he lay completely helpless, in and out of consciousness in intensive care, kept under by morphine until the pain spasms from the incision that ran from sternum to crotch settled down enough to move him from ICU to a ward bed. The only way to evacuate him or any other ICU non-ambulatory patient would be to roll the bed out of the hospital. On the ward, fully conscious, he remained connected to a feeding tube, a drain tube, a catheter, an IV, and oxygen, so you can understand why Greer, a former firefighter, hit the nurse call button when the moron in the next bed lit up. As in lit a cigarette. Those were the good old days of personal freedom before the nanny state told people they couldn’t smoke in hospital rooms, especially hospital rooms with oxygen flowing.

The Ackley do nothings are playing with lives. They’re doing everything but acting responsibility to protect the lives and property of residents and business owners in the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District.


—Barry Roberts Greer, BA, MA, MPA, former firefighter, author of “Pipe Nozzle,” “Seven Two,” and “Of Cowards and Firefighters.” His new book, “Engine 10,” based on the PBFD political lunacy, is scheduled for publication in May 2014 and includes a definition of the term *quint.

Alan Ackley, president of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District, could use a good PIO, but obviously the cash-strapped district can’t afford a public relations officer, so Ackley has to do the job. But how hard could it be?  The Ackley family has business experience, knows how to advertise and sell booze and mobile homes, and knows how to manipulate a vote. Alan’s quality PR work can be seen on tape for the February 26, 2014, monthly fire board meeting. PR gems from the meeting include the following not necessarily in chronological order.

Joke About the Frozen Hydrant
Alan’s brother Randy, who sits on the board and manages High Rock Trailer Park, joked about asking the water district for a refund because of the frozen hydrant that delayed water on February 17 when a High Rock mobile home burned to the ground. No discussion whatsoever about why High Rock has no hydrants, but Ackley recommended that the board delay full payment on the next hydrant rental bill in May, a clear indication of the Ackley’s concern for public safety.

Complain About Freedom of Information
Board member Nancy Beckwith fretted about all the freedom of information complaints she’s faced with. She asked for legal assistance the next time she has to go to Hartford for an FOI hearing. Of course, that means paying the attorney $300.00 an hour, a clear indication of the board’s desire to save the district money. One board member referred to the FOI complaints as “frivolous crap.”  Ackley said nothing in response nor suggested that overuse of executive session generated the impression that the board wanted to hide information from the taxpayers.

Diminish the Importance of Fire Prevention
Board member Ron Yuhas, wearing his usual black T-shirt with a pocket, proposed saving overtime pay for the district by having the fire inspector fill in for a sick or injured firefighter, a clear indication of the board’s concern for preventing fires. Yuhas did not have the text for a motion ready to make the personnel policy change and asked board vice president, Gary Bertman, to word a motion on the spot, because, according to Yuhas, Bertman was good at that sort of thing because, we have to guess, Yuhas, who is functionally illiterate, thinks a medical degree helps people speak good.

Entertain Muddled Motions
Bertman attempted a motion that was really two motions: to study the feasibility of having the fire inspector work in two positions, and to approve the change in personnel policy. Board member Deb Monteiro refused to vote on any motion without hard data on money saved by the personnel policy change; Monteiro also raised the possibility of legal problems if the board arbitrarily started moving people around who may or may not be qualified for a job. Ackley asked the chief if the fire inspector would be qualified for a firefighter/ems position. The chief mumbled and waffled. Ackley grew frustrated by the need to pay even more for lawyers and declared the labor contract allowed the board to act in an emergency to do whatever the hell it pleased with personnel, and, by God, the district was in a fiscal emergency. Bertman withdrew his motion.  

Reject Compromise from a Supporter on the Board
Board member Peter Legnos sought the middle ground. He said the board had caused enough acrimony with arbitrary decisions and needed to talk to people (meaning the fire inspector and the union) before making decisions like a change in personnel policy. The board, Legnos said, needed to be less confrontational. Yuhas brilliantly retorted by saying that the firefighters needed to change, not the board—a rhetorical flourish fit for a schoolyard.  Ackley grew more frustrated.

Ignore the Fire Protection Needs of a Board Member
Legnos added insult to injury with mention that the PBFD fire inspector had toured his business recently and had done a very professional job. According to the Connecticut secretary of state corporate database, Legnos owns LBI, Inc, located at 973 North Road in Groton, which is in the district, but he lives outside the district on a picturesque spit of land in Groton Long Point. Legnos is the LBI president, secretary, director, and agent for his business. In other words, unlike the Ackley clan, he doesn’t have a group of relatives named in his business filing.

And Legnos has good reason to want the fire inspector to visit LBI, Inc, and good reason to want the best fire protection and emergency medical services his tax dollar can buy. LBI, according to its website, “specializes in design and rapid prototyping of composite and thermoform products for the marine environment. LBI provides technical service and products including systems engineering, mechanical design, prototyping and fabrication, installation support, testing, evaluation, problem resolution, production manufacturing, repair and overhaul, warehousing and inventory management.” For manufacturing, overhaul, and repair, “LBI maintains a stock of fiberglass, vinylester, bonding compound and epoxy resins, associated applicators and tools, along with proprietary products.”

Even if you don’t care about your lungs, smoking can be hazardous to your health in any workplace using “fiberglass, vinylester, bonding compound and epoxy resins.” More than your lungs will be ruined following ignition. LBI also boasts a paint shed and a 500 degree Grieve industrial oven that, according to Grieve, has to meet “National Fire Protection Association Standard 86, Industrial Risk Insurers, Factory Mutual and OSHA standards. For some applications, such as those involving flammable solvents or hazardous locations, the above organizations require additional safety devices.” In other words, Legnos is not running a trailer park and a hydrant sits on North Road right across from the driveway into LBI.

So you see, fire inspectors have considerable knowledge work to do when they’re not visiting hazardous business sites, such as LBI, Inc. And for those of you who think that’s a heck of a lot of gummit (and insurance industry) interference in free enterprise, keep in mind that LBI is a government contractor or a subcontractor for contractors who work with, you know, the Navy. And if you think the fire prevention standards for LBI are tough or that the PBFD fire inspector has to be well educated on fire hazards and their prevention, you don’t know the Navy. The Navy invented fire prevention and suppression, because when a fire starts on a ship, the crew has nowhere to go.

Lose Your Temper and Pay Late Fees
Nonetheless, Alan Ackley, being the smooth politician, master of public relations, and master consensus builder that he is, lost it with Peter Legnos. Near the end of the meeting, Legnos had to throw up his hands in that universal gesture that said, “Whoa, calm down, Alan.”

But it seems, under Ackley’s guidance, the board stumbled to some sort of consensus on the need move into the 21rst century to pay bills online like LBI, Inc. does after Chief Paige reported that the district loses money each month on late payment fees because it has to wait around for three signatures, just like the old days before computers and epoxy resins and hydrants.

—Barry Roberts Greer, editor

A former firefighter with an MPA, Greer is author of three firefighting books: “Pipe Nozzle,” “Seven Two,” and “Of Cowards and Firefighters.” He’s currently at work on “Engine 10,” a novel based loosely on PBFD political lunacy.

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