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Fire chief of embattled Groton fire district will retire

Groton — Todd Paige, longtime chief of the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department, has notified the board of directors that he will retire Dec. 11. He also told the fire department’s four captains Thursday morning.

Paige has served as chief since January 2001 and has been with the department 28 years.

“I appreciate the opportunity to serve the citizens of the community and it’s been an honor to work with some of the most dedicated and courageous firefighters in Connecticut,” he said during an interview in his office. He said his administrative staff also supported him.

“It’s always difficult (to leave) because you put so much into it, and it’s a crossroads,” he said. “It’s a new chapter in my life.”

His contract requires a 30-day notice before he leaves, and he sent a brief email to board members Wednesday, which he said he would follow with a letter. The email did not explain his reasons for leaving.

He declined to discuss Thursday whether those reasons were related to the fire district’s troubles.

The fire district has been in financial crisis for two years, closed one of its two fire stations and laid off nine firefighters. The union and district board have also been in a protracted battle over a labor contract. The union tried unsuccessfully to rescind the layoffs by seeking an injunction in New London Superior Court and filed complaints at the state administrative level about staffing and labor practices.

During regular interactions, Paige was sometimes caught in the middle of disputes between firefighters and the board, or was ordered by the board to take actions he advised against.

Paige said he has “a couple of opportunities” in terms of work, but he declined to elaborate. He said he never finished his bachelor’s degree in fire administration when he became chief and would like to pursue that.

“I’ve always wanted to teach, but I need to finish my degree to have that opportunity,” he said.

Brian Kiely, one of the four shift captains, said of the chief’s decision, “I wish him well on his retirement.” Kiely said he didn’t know what would happen next.

In his retirement letter, Paige recommended appointing one of the captains as acting fire chief until a successor was chosen. He said he would assist the board if it wanted.

Board members made no comment at the start of the meeting about Paige’s decision and had not discussed it at press time.

Two audience members expressed frustration or worry.

“I want the board to know that I’ve gone gray waiting for you to resolve your problems,” said Helen Rush, one resident. The board could rally people and do so to improve safety, she said. She told the chief she understood why he was retiring.

“I’m very concerned about my safety,” said Anna Sullivan, of Flanders Road, adding that she lives in an outlying area of the district.

Board members were expected to discuss and possibly vote on a tentative agreement with the union Thursday night but did not. The board and union reached the agreement with the help of the state mediator, but the board later rejected it. Then the board said it would reconsider.

Board President Alan Ackley explained that the district board no longer has a lawyer. Ackley said he spoke with attorney Michael E. Satti, who represents Stonington, and suggested Satti take over for F. Jerone O’Malley, the board’s former lawyer. Other board members said they would not vote on hiring the attorney until they knew more and spoke to him.

d.straszheim@theday.com

@DStraszheim

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