NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)–After multiple complaints to city officials, the New Haven fire union is now asking the state labor board to intervene in their attempt to stop Deputy Director of Emergency Management Rick Fontana from responding to fire calls.
Union President Frank Ricci said the union filed two complaints last week, one with OSHA and the other with the labor board. They are asking for the labor board to put Fontana on interim relief from fire calls until a decision can be made about whether or not he is overstepping his authority.
“Rick Fontana has been endangering not only the public in New Haven but also Orange and West Haven by responding lights and sirens through those districts to fire calls where he has no emergency role. He’s self dispatching,” said Ricci.
The union filed their first complaint against Fontana with the city back in August. Ricci says on numerous occasions Fontana has arrived at fire scenes and appears to be taking on the role of Chief. In July, Fontana can be heard on radio transmissions interrupting firefighters conversations as they fought a house fire on Blatchley Avenue.
Battalion Chief Mark Vendetto said he was on the third floor of the burning home when he tried to check on conditions outside.
“We had heavy heat conditions. We were unable to get to the seat of the fire. We were unable to get control of it,” said Vendetto.
As Vendetto and another Lieutenant are heard conversing on the radio, Vendetto says Fontana’s voice interrupts more than once saying he is “notifying Red Cross”. Acting Chief Matt Marcarelli can then be heard asking Fontana to go through Command channels instead.
“What was going through my head at his time, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I gotta hustle down, I’m in a hostile environment. I can’t see and I gotta run down the back stairwell and I gotta make this decision because Rick wants to play Fire Chief,” said Vendetto.
The union says this is just one of several incidents in which Fontana seemingly overstepped his boundaries. Their concern is if he is continued to be allowed to act as a firefighter or interrupt their communications someone may get seriously injured.
“The union’s only asking for a safety stand down. Let’s pause. Stop Rick Fontana from endangering firefighters and let the labor board hear the charge. The city is fighting tooth and nail.
City officials declined to comment on this story saying the city withholds comments on complaints of this nature.