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New London offers fired firefighter his job back

By Sasha Goldstein

Publication: theday.com

Published May 02. 2012 7:00PM   Updated May 03. 2012 12:17AM
Tim Cook/The Day file photo
In this April 24 file photo, Alfred Mayo reacts to a statement by State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, unseen, as Hewett holds a press conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford in response to the Public Safety Department's investigation and report on the evaluation process at the state fire academy in regards to the firing of Mayo as a recruit for the New London Fire Department.

New London — The city on Wednesday offered to give fired firefighter Alfred Mayo his job back.

Citing "new information," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said Wednesday evening that the city has offered Mayo back pay, payment of his attorney fees and "unconditional reinstatement."

In December, Mayo was fired by the city and pulled from the state fire academy just days before he was to graduate.

Mayo said Wednesday that his attorney has received the offer from the city and that he will accept it once details are "ironed out" today.

"It's crazy. Of course I'm nervous and excited at the same time," Mayo said. "It still has yet to sink in. It's been so long that I haven't absorbed it all the way."

Since his firing, Mayo, the first black firefighter hired by the city since 1978, has alleged he was a victim of racial discrimination and has filed complaints to that effect with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against New London and the Connecticut Fire Academy.

An investigation of the academy, released April 23, faults the training school for multiple procedural failures, inappropriate communications and possibly untrue allegations of recruit misconduct. Mayo was the only black recruit in last year's "Class 48."

The report's findings, said Finizio, paired with the resolution of an issue with Mayo's driving record, led to the offer.

"I have maintained throughout this process that the city of New London will not lower its standards for any applicant for public employment," Finizio said. "I am convinced at this point, based on the new information that the city has received, that Mr. Mayo meets the high qualifications and standards that we set, and I will be proud to welcome him into the city's fire service."

Finizio said the city relied heavily on information received from an instructor at the fire academy who repeatedly told Fire Chief Ronald Samul that Mayo had a bad attitude and was not performing well. Finizio said such correspondence about a recruit from an academy instructor is rare, which he said spoke to its seriousness.

Mayo emotionally has told his side of the story over the last few months at town hall meetings and at the state Capitol, where he told the legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus of his experience at the academy.

Finizio attended an NAACP-sponsored town hall meeting in February at which Mayo spoke, as did other black fire firefighters who also reported ill-treatment at the fire academy. At that same meeting, state Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, called for an investigation into the academy. The next day, Finizio echoed that call, and on Wednesday he said he was "pleased that study was conducted."

"The remaining issue was Mr. Mayo's driving record," said the mayor, "but after consultation with our insurance attorney and the city law department, the recommendation was made to me that Mr. Mayo meets our qualifications regarding his driving record and therefore the offer for reinstatement was made."

While attending the academy last year, Mayo was cited for speeding. That case is scheduled to be heard in court May 10, and Mayo said Wednesday that regardless of what happens that day, his "license is not in jeopardy" of being suspended.

In March, the city was considering reinstating Mayo, but Finizio said at that time that he ended the negotiations after he consulted with the city's law department, city staff and an attorney for the city's insurance company.

The recent report into the academy was completed by the office of Reuben F. Bradford, the commissioner of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which oversees the fire academy.

Bradford himself sent a letter to Finizio and Samul, writing that the negative evaluations of Mayo made to city officials were the opinions of one instructor at the academy and not "a conclusion of the fire academy or this agency."

By the time the city fired Mayo three days before graduation, he already had qualified as a certified level 1 and level 2 firefighter, having passed tests and quizzes with high marks.

"It is my belief that many of the communications were avoidable," Bradford wrote. "Mr. Mayo's academic performance indicates that he persevered in the face of considerable adversity, which would indicate the presence of positive intangibles in his character."

Finizio said he has "consulted with the fire chief and instructed him to prepare for Mr. Mayo's arrival" pending the return and finalization of the city's job offer.

Mayo said he's excited to get to work and isn't concerned that other firefighters will treat him differently because of his high-profile fight for his job.

"I'm not worried, only because I know I'm a hard worker and I do my best," he said. "My issue that I had wasn't against the New London firefighters, it had nothing to do with them. I know there's some really great guys there and I'm looking forward to working with them."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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