Fireman Passero, New London's cat-rescue mayor

Firefighter Michael Passero of the New London Fire Department climbs a tower ladder to rescue a cat from the roof of the Hygienic Art Gallery at the corner of Bank and Gold streets,  after all other attempts to lure the cat back into the top floor windows were exhausted without success on July 16, 2015, in New London. (Steven Frischling/Special to The Day)
Firefighter Michael Passero of the New London Fire Department climbs a tower ladder to rescue a cat from the roof of the Hygienic Art Gallery at the corner of Bank and Gold streets, after all other attempts to lure the cat back into the top floor windows were exhausted without success on July 16, 2015, in New London. (Steven Frischling/Special to The Day)

The New London Fire Department, like many modern professional departments, has a policy that prohibits the use of firefighting resources to rescue a cat in a tree.

There are more than a few reasons departments follow this. Among them is the questionable wisdom of putting a firefighter at risk by climbing to save an animal from some precarious perch. They are trained to save humans.

A cat rescue also could open a municipality to new liabilities and tie up critical manpower and equipment that is supposed to be at the ready in the event there is, well, a fire.

And then there's the age-old wisdom on the topic: You never see a cat skeleton in a tree.

This cat-rescue policy, however, is evidently only selectively enforced in New London, a city in which the mayor is a retired firefighter.

Indeed, here in Cronyville, influential people are evidently able to summon a full firefighting complement — six firefighters, an engine company and ladder company — when there's a cat they want down from a tree.

That's what happened recently after attorney Robert Reardon wanted firefighters to take down a neighbor's cat that had been hanging out on a tree limb over the parking lot of his Hempstead Street law office for five days.

This dramatic rescue, which included a visit by Fire Chief Henry Kydd, was followed up by a grand gesture of gratitude from attorney Reardon, at least six $150 gift certificates for Tony D's restaurant, for each of the cat-rescuing firefighters.

The chief, apparently one of the few city officials with a respect for ethics rules, returned the certificate offered to him.

The mayor apparently was involved in the rescue, too, evidently signing off on the breaking of the policy against animal rescue, although I guess he didn't want to talk about it, not returning a specific message I left for him at City Hall.

It was the fire chief who told me I needed to talk directly to the mayor about why the no-animal-rescue policy was not followed.

Careful readers of The Day, of course, know that Mayor Passero seems to like a good cat rescue, given the fact that a picture of him appeared here in the midst of his 2015 mayoral campaign, atop a fire ladder, rescuing a cat from the roof of the Hygienic Art Gallery.

People complained at the time that choosing the firefighter running for mayor to go up the rescue ladder was political opportunism. I don't know about that, but I wonder now who suspended the policy for that cat rescue.

Reardon was happy to chat about the rescue when I caught up with him this week, praising the firefighters he said cleverly ended up cutting the branch the cat had been clinging to and bringing the whole thing down the ladder.

Reardon said he wanted the fire department to come because the owner of the cat had rigged up a rope pulley and a ladder and was about to risk harm to himself.

"I was worried the owner was going to fall from the tree and probably die," he said.

Reardon drove to the Broad Street fire station, where he was first told about the policy against animal rescue. When he complained, someone called the battalion chief at headquarters, who also said no.

Before he left the firehouse, according to an account by someone who was there, Reardon threatened to call the fire chief and mayor. He didn't deny this when I asked him.

Eventually, he said, he did speak to the chief about doing the rescue. He said he didn't speak to the mayor before the rescue, but added that he texted Passero afterward to tell him "the cat was down."

I wouldn't stay up at night worrying about the city violating its own policy against animal rescues. I am glad they got the cat down, that no one was hurt, that no other fire calls came in.

But I do worry about the precedent set by public employees being allowed to keep $150 gifts, no matter how generous the spirit in which they were offered.

City Law Director Jeffrey Londregan, who was asked by Chief Kydd to rule on the Reardon gifts, cited the city ethics rule that allows gifts that are "trivial and occasional" in nature in saying he did not see a problem with the certificates. He said he was told the certificates were for dinner for two people.

He said he told the fire chief a full ruling could be requested from the city ethics board.

So, remember, the next time a cop pulls you over in New London, it's apparently OK for you to offer him or her $150.

Tell the cop it's trivial, and you have a gifting thumbs-up from the law director.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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