NEW HAVEN>> After being turned down by the city twice, the fire union is asking the state labor board to approve its request to place city Deputy Director of Emergency Management Rick Fontana on interim relief from any fire-related duties until a decision is made on the union’s complaint against Fontana.
The complaint, which was filed with the State Board of Labor Relations in August, claimed Fontana did the work of the fire employees several times by allegedly dispatching himself and responding to fire calls, working to put out fires, using fire radio channels, wearing a similar uniform as fire command staff, and acting as the public information officer on fire scenes.
According to fire union President Frank Ricci, two informal hearings were held in September to discuss the issues. The meetings included the fire union, city Chief Administrator Mike Carter, Local 3144, the union Fontana is a member of, and the state labor relations board.
Ricci alleged Fontana’s actions endanger firefighters and the union offered to enter in to a “stand down” in which they requested that Fontana not be allowed to engage in fire suppression, use fire radio channels, or respond to emergency scenes with lights and sirens, until the complaint was resolved.
Ricci said the city rejected the proposal at both meetings, held on Sept. 16 and Sept. 22.
“In 19 years and after eight hours of informal hearings that still have not concluded, I have never seen the city spend so much time to defend the indefensible,” Ricci said.
The union claims the city violated two state statutes by permitting Fontana to perform work that should be done by members of the bargaining unit.
The union also filed another complaint regarding Fontana’s alleged actions, this time with the state Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health. In the new complaint, the union claims the city violated Connecticut OSHA’s general duty clause by not ensuring their workplace is free from “recognized hazards” and the Fire Brigade Standards by having Fontana, who is described as a “civilian” in the complaint, engage in fire fighting, response and command activities.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said “it is the city’s policy and practice to withhold comment on complaints of this nature.” He gave no further comment.
Fontana’s responsibilities as deputy director in the emergency management office include preparing for, responding to, and planning for recovery from all potential natural or man-made hazards that threaten the city.
His current job description does not include or exclude specific tasks regarding fires and other emergency scenes.
Fontana has helped the city make plans for snowstorms, heat waves, and other treacherous weather and evacuations, chemical leaks, and he helped generate the city response and a public health emergency message following a recent string of overdoses in the city.
He is a former West Haven firefighter who went along with 15 others from the department to ground zero of the World Trade Center two days after 9/11.
Despite decades of experience in public safety, the union claims Fontana does not have the necessary qualifications to respond to fire scenes and should cease in doing so. The complaint to OSHA outlines his alleged lack of training in department protocols.
“He has not participated in quarterly fire training or Annual Live Burn training…He has not been trained on the department’s Mayday or Urgent Message protocol…He has not been fit tested to wear breathing apparatus…He has not been issued, trained nor should ha have protective clothing to be donned when operating at a fire,” Ricci wrote in the OSHA complaint.
The union’s request for interim relief will be discussed at an informal meeting the state labor relations board on Oct. 11.
“What we have here is an Individual who wants to play firefighter at the expense of public safety,” Ricci said. “The union is confident that we will prevail in our charge before the labor board.”