Norwich fire chief reflects on accomplishments after announcing retirement

Norwich — Fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato looked over the list of tasks former City Manager Richard Podurgiel gave him back in 2005 and realized he had checked off every item.

With that, he said, he felt it was time to retire from the position he has held for the past 13 years and leave new tasks and issues for a successor to tackle.

Scandariato announced his plans to retire effective Sept. 6 but said he plans to stay in the Norwich area and looks forward to serving the city and region as a “subject matter expert” from time to time and finding other new opportunities. He and his wife, Carol, have three grown children and three grandchildren.

“Given that I’m 63, and we’ve accomplished a lot,” Scandariato said Thursday, “it’s time to step away and let someone else take it forward.”

He highlighted several things he felt were top accomplishments, including improving training and safety protocols, rebuilding the department’s infrastructure and management structure and even ensuring that the Greeneville neighborhood has a community meeting space in the Greeneville fire station.

When Scandariato arrived in 2005, he said Norwich was known as the city “that’s always burning.” Arson fires were frequent and were consuming resources, time and causing injuries to firefighters. Norwich Fire Department beefed up its investigations and coordinated with Norwich police. Scandariato’s list of accomplishments includes a notation in bold, red type: “40 arson convictions made.”

“We have enhanced public safety here to the point where those types of incidents have decreased significantly,” he said.

The list also says Scandariato has been in command of 78 first-alarm fires and 42 multi-alarm incidents and conducted 51 fire investigations.

Another problem Scandariato noticed soon after he arrived in Norwich was the high number of vacant, neglected mill or commercial buildings in the hearts of densely populated neighborhoods. The fire department worked with the city Building Department, Public Works, police and with building owners to clear away overgrown brush and weeds, remove combustible debris and secure the buildings. The department created action plans if fires were to occur in buildings identified as hazardous.

When Norwich Emergency Management Director Gene Arters died unexpectedly in January 2017, City Manager John Salomone named Scandariato to head that department in addition to his fire chief and fire marshal duties. Scandariato said the fire chief and emergency management positions are combined in many cities, and he agreed with the move. He also agreed with Salomone that an assistant or deputy needs to be named to work on issues when the fire chief is occupied with active fires.

Scandariato enlisted the Laurel Hill Volunteer Fire Department to assist with a major task of overhauling the Emergency Management Department headquarters on McKinley Avenue, discarding outdated and broken equipment and old vehicles rarely used, installing new storage shelves and painting the entire facility.

“I’m very proud of the fact that, with some excellent help, we brought the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) from 1950 to 2018,” Scandariato said.

The complex Norwich fire services system of one central city paid department and five volunteer departments has caused friction, financial and political debates for decades. Scandariato has not been immune from that controversy.

He said Thursday that the two systems can be improved and even can become “a model” for the state. But he said it would take coordinated efforts headed by city administration and the City Council.

“I still believe that the volunteer service is a necessary component, as well as the career service, in its present form,” Scandariato said. “We just need to collaborate better. We could be a model for the state of Connecticut.”

Both Scandariato and the city’s longest tenured volunteer chief, Frank Blanchard in Yantic, both said “on the ground” firefighters and chiefs set aside political divisiveness and work strongly together. Blanchard credited Scandariato for improving firefighting safety protocols used by all city departments.

“He implemented a lot of policies in his department shared throughout all the departments,” Blanchard said. “It was a great improvement to firefighter safety on the ground. ... All of our time spent on the fire grounds together, strenuous as those jobs and positions may be, everyone got home safely.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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