Gradual transition to begin soon for New London fire chief

New London - The longtime head of the city's fire department is inching his way toward greener pastures.

Starting Oct. 15, and by using accrued compensation time, Fire Chief Ronald Samul will no longer oversee day-to-day operations at the department as he nears his April 1 retirement.

"He still will be at major fire scenes, consulting with the deputy chief, so it's kind of a phase-out, which is very good for the department because it has had the same chief for a quarter century," Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said Thursday. "We knew the transition was coming, and we'll have the deputy chief as acting chief learning the ropes. It's a more stable transition for a department that's an excellent operation. We don't want a leadership transition to jeopardize that operational excellence."

In March, 33-year department veteran Henry Kydd was promoted from battalion chief to deputy chief; the deputy chief position had been vacant since 2004. Kydd and the three remaining battalion chiefs will run the fire department's day-to-day operations, Finizio said, while Samul will remain "around and involved" but not on a regular schedule.

Samul, a 41-year veteran of the department who has served as chief for the past 27 years, announced in February that he planned to retire. Finizio said Samul has accrued enough compensation time to last him through his official retirement date but could not specify the number of accrued hours.

In August, Finizio issued an executive order that nonunion workers, such as department heads, would from that point on be compensated for working extra hours by taking time off rather than being paid for those hours. Those who accrued time prior to the order are being asked to use it as "flex" time or time off by the end of the current fiscal year, Finizio said.

The change was brought about, in part, because of a large amount of overtime accumulated by Margaret Ackley since she became police chief in 2009. One of the first things she did after taking over was to cut overtime for the rank-and-file, saving the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. But in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, Ackley received about $80,000 in compensatory pay.

Finizio said his executive order could save thousands of dollars.

No one has been pegged as the next fire chief, Finizio said, though the city is considering a national search or a promotion from within among its options. The city is in the "preliminary stage" of the process, Finizio said.

s.goldstein@theday.com

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