DEEP firefighters battle brush fire and layoffs

KENT, Conn. (WTNH) – Firefighters with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection are working hard to contain a brush fire near the New York state line, but soon, there will be fewer of them to fight these fires.

From a neighborhood in Kent, News 8 cameras could see distinct plumes of smoke rising from Schaghticoke Mountain.

“We made a GPS map of that fire and it’s about 40 acres as of about 6:00 last night,” according to Richard Schenk, DEEP Fire Control Officer.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, DEEP firefighters were getting ready to hike 2 hours up trails full of rattlesnakes to cut fire lines around the blaze.

Related: Multiple towns respond to brush fire on Schaghticoke Mountain in Kent

“So these are some of the tools we use to create a fireline break,” said Christopher Kostopolous, whose technical title is “Maintainer 2” with DEEP.

Kostopolous spent the past nine years maintaining state parks for DEEP, and whenever the agency needed a team to fight brush fires, he did that too. Sometimes that meant spending three weeks at a time out on the west coast battling fires, but all that is about to end.

“They’re letting go ten of us, all of us with less than 10 years on the job,” Kostopolous said. “All of us, except for one, fight wildland fires.”

Due to state budget problems, DEEP has to layoff employees, and a bunch of them fight brush fires. Here’s the problem: If there are fewer state employees fighting brush fires, that means when there are brush fires in Connecticut, it is going to be up to the local fire departments to deal with them. In Kent, it’s an all volunteer department.

“An all volunteer force from Kent, an all volunteer force from Litchfield county,” said Bruce Adams, (D) Kent First Selectman. “It will be a real problem.”

2017 05 17 schaghticoke mountain fire kent DEEP firefighters battle brush fire and layoffs
Smoke can be seen from a fire on Schaghticoke Mountain in Kent (Photo: Twitter / LitchfieldCounty911)

It is not as a rare as you think. Kent has seen several brush fires, including one that burned 500 acres.

“It was about 15 years ago we had one and we had a few smaller ones since then,” Adams said.

Kostopolous says the state will lose its investment in him, and valuable resources with the layoffs.

“The state of Connecticut spent quite a bit of money on me by training me for wildland firefighting,” said Kostopolous. “I have 10 years experience fighting wildland fires.”

His union requires 6 weeks notice, so Kostopolous will be out of a job on June 23rd. He just bought a house in West Haven. On the other side, the state is laying off employees because it has to make up a $5 billion deficit in the next two year budget.

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