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Paul Morrissette sworn in as new fire chief

Date: 7/31/2012

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW — The town of East Longmeadow honored its retiring fire chief and now will welcome in their new full-time fire chief.

On July 24, the day that the town hosted a retirement reception for Chief Richard Brady, the Board of Selectmen unanimously agreed to name Acting Chief Paul Morrissette the full-time fire chief. Morrissette officially took over the job effective the end of Brady's final shift on July 27.

Morrissette has been a member of the East Longmeadow Fire Department for 21 years, including five years as captain.

"I'm excited," Morrissette said. "I work with a great bunch of guys. We have a lot of talented guys and I'm excited to put the talents and the skills and their excitement to work."

Morrissette, who was one of two finalists for the full-time position, was appointed acting chief by the Board of Selectmen on June 26 after Deputy Chief Stephen Rybacki pulled his name from consideration. He was actually sworn in as the acting chief at the beginning of the meeting, then after an executive session, the motion to make him full-time chief was made and voted on unanimously.

Brady expressed his confidence in Morrissette and wished him well.

"I'm very excited for Paul," he said. "He will do a great job for that department."

Brady explained that he and Morrissette have been working together recently to ensure that the transition would be a smooth one.

"We've been working together for a couple weeks now," he said. "You don't really know what goes on in this office until you work in it. Stuff comes at you from all directions and occasionally, it all gets interrupted by a fire or an accident or something else that pulls you away, so you really have to multitask and I think Paul will do just fine with that."

In addition to filling the chief's position, Morrissette's full-time appointment allows the department to keep both firefighters William Houle and Brian Daponde. Daponde was hired to replace Houle as a full-time firefighter while Houle is at the fire academy for three months. If the board had chosen to hire an outside candidate for the fire chief position and Morrissette had been returned to his position as captain, there would have been only one position left for Houle or Daponde.

"I'm glad they did this when they did," Brady said. "Brian passed his physical agility test [on July 24] and he's scheduled to start work on Monday [July 30] at 8 a.m."

One of the things that convinced the board that Morrissette would be a good choice to fill the position full time was his initiative in attempting to find ways to extend the department's full-time coverage hours through grant funding.

"When we asked for some ideas from our two finalists for the chief's position, Acting Chief Morrissette's response, I thought, was right on what we were looking for and to see the follow up and to be as pro-active as he's been, it's a step above and beyond," Selectman James Driscoll said. "From what I've seen from Paul's actions to date, I have no problem supporting him for a permanent position as fire chief."

Morrissette explained that the grant he suggested the town pursue was the SAFER Grant offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The selectmen have agreed that the town should apply for this funding.

"The SAFER grant funds firefighter positions for departments that have either lost firefighters through attrition, retirement or lack of funding," Morrissette said. "A certain percentage of that money is made available to departments like ours that want to increase their hours of coverage.

"We currently offer 40 hours of full-time coverage and [the selectmen] asked us how we would improve the hours of coverage. It always comes down to funding. The previous chiefs have always tried to bring it to the table and money is always difficult, so my suggestion was that this is free money for two years to the town. There's no match percentage, there's no cost the town has to incur in terms of salaries or any of the overhead expenses. I think it's a home run. It's a win-win," he continued.