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Poquonnock Bridge boosts firefighter staffing

Groton — Starting today, the Poquonnock Bridge Fire District will increase firefighter staffing to a minimum of five on duty — the number it had before layoffs. 

Newly hired fire Chief Joseph Winski, officially sworn in Thursday, said he would call in firefighters on overtime for the time being. 

“It’s our responsibility to do the right thing for the public and for the firefighters,” he said. 

Winski has been assessing safety at Poquonnock Bridge since starting in the post on Dec. 26. 

He took one of the department’s engines out of service two days into the job, and last week spoke publicly to the board about investing in more equipment. The district board voted to buy a combination pumper and ladder truck for $698,000 and to refurbish Engine 33, which was taken out of service for repairs. 

The 2013 ladder truck, acquired through a lease-purchase agreement, was on display outside during swearing-in the ceremony. 

“We’re working one step at a time,” Board member Ron Yuhas said after the swearing in at the Groton Senior Center. “We made some great strides today.” 

Libby Burdick, wife of former Chief Robert Burdick and a resident of the district, said she was pleased to see improvement. 

“It looks like he’s really moving in a good direction, which was so badly needed,” she said. 

Last June, the district board laid off nine firefighters — more than one-third of the department — despite protest from firefighters and residents that the decision would put the public and firefighters at risk. 

After the layoffs, the department fell to a minimum of three firefighters on duty per shift. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has what’s called a two-in/two-out rule, which means a firefighter must not enter a burning building alone and must keep in contact with two firefighters outside in case something goes wrong. There’s an exception if immediate action could save a life. 

Winski retired in January 2013 after 43 years of service in the East Great Plain Fire Department in Norwich, including two stints as chief and a post-retirement term as assistant chief. 

District Board President Alan Ackley said during the swearing-in ceremony that taxpayers would “greatly benefit” from Winski’s extensive experience. 

Kenneth Richards, chief of the Old Mystic Fire Department, told the audience at the ceremony that he visited Poquonnock Bridge and found enthusiasm he hadn’t seen in years.

d.straszheim@theday.com

Twitter: DStraszheim

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