New London fire chief Henry Kydd to retire Tuesday

In this Sept. 11, 2016 Day file photo, New London Fire Department Chief Henry Kydd holds the flag presented to him by the Groton Area Chief Petty Officer Association at the conclusion of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival 9/11 Anniversary Commemoration sponsored by the Groton Area Chief Petty Officer Association Sunday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
In this Sept. 11, 2016 Day file photo, New London Fire Department Chief Henry Kydd holds the flag presented to him by the Groton Area Chief Petty Officer Association at the conclusion of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival 9/11 Anniversary Commemoration sponsored by the Groton Area Chief Petty Officer Association Sunday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — Fire Chief Henry E. Kydd Jr. says he considers New London to be the best fire department in southeastern Connecticut, if not all of eastern Connecticut.

Kydd, in his fifth year as fire chief, would like to think he had some small part to play in that.

Kydd, 66, will work his last day Tuesday. He is retiring after 40 years of service to the city and plans to spend more time with family – which includes six grandchildren. Battalion Chief Thomas Curcio will be sworn in as the new chief on Wednesday.

In a job where vacations are rare and calls to his cellphone are frequent, Kydd said he’s not sure how he will adjust to having actual down time. But the idea of volunteering his time to coach sports has crossed his mind, something unthinkable with the demands of running one of the area’s busiest departments.

Kydd has no plans to disconnect from the fire service completely, however. It’s not in his character.

“I’m not one of those guys that would just stop caring,” Kydd said. “I care about the City of New London.”

Co-workers past and present describe Kydd as easygoing, somewhat reserved and an able leader with a deep love for the city.

Kydd is respected without having to demand it, said Mayor Michael Passero, a retired firefighter who worked with and for Kydd.

Fire Lt. Rocco Basilica said Kydd always had his heart in the job and his first concern was for the safety of the firefighters. Having a chief who grew up in New London also made a difference, he said.

“He invested himself in this city. He’s not just an employee. He’s part of the fabric,” Basilica said. “He is humble and he honestly cared. His first thought was the guys and the citizens. Always.”

Kydd was appointed chief in 2013 and held the honor as the department’s first black chief during a time when the scarce number of minority firefighters at the department was getting attention. Kydd said one of his goals – a goal shared by the union and city’s administration - has been to find more recruits who are minorities and who live in the city.

It’s a difficulty many departments face but the city has had some success over the few years, he said, hiring several minority recruits and at least one city resident while developing an internship program to attract residents to the job.

Kydd, a 1970 graduate of New London High School who came from a family of six, initially had his sights set on becoming a teacher in the New London school system.

He grabbed an opportunity to become a firefighter in 1977 during a push by the city to bring in more minorities through an affirmative action program.

Former Fire Chief Ron Samul admits there were difficulties for some of the new hires because of the scrutiny the recruits received and opposition to the hires by some.

Kydd proved himself a quick study and hard worker who rose through the ranks to lieutenant and later to battalion chief, a rank he held for 17 years.

Kydd was promoted to the rank of deputy chief in 2012 and former Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio named him chief in 2013, the year Samul retired after 43 years at the department and 28 years as chief.

Samul said Kydd was immediately under a lot of pressure because the city has refused to fund a deputy chief position.

“But he prepared himself well and executed his preparations well. There’s a lot of pressure to that job and some people react to it differently,” Samul said. “I think Henry did an excellent job for the for the city and he should be proud of his service.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, called Kydd “a modest guy,” who was an intense advocate for the city and his department.

Courtney visited the department last month to announce an award of $251,799 in federal funds for training and safety improvements at the department through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program.

“My office got a front row seat to his work advocating for New London. In terms of pursuing those grants from New London he was extremely aggressive and effective," Courtney said. "It’s clear his priorities have been primarily about safety and the team. He’s someone who cares deeply about the people who do that work. He’s a great example of a leader you want in a fire department.”

g.smith@theday.com

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