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Questions regarding Fire Department remain

Date: 7/17/2012

By Chris Maza

EAST LONGMEADOW — While several scenarios exist regarding the hiring of a new fire chief, the East Longmeadow Fire Department may face a situation in which they have more firefighters on duty than they have positions for.

The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to hire call firefighter Brian Daponde as a full-time firefighter at its June 26 meeting, but a potential situation may result in the town not having a place for him in the not-so-distant future.

Board of Selectmen Chair Jack Villamaino told Reminder Publications that the hiring of Daponde was done to fill the spot vacated by firefighter William Houle, who beat him out for a full-time job in November 2011, while Houle is attending the fire academy.

"The firefighter we hired in November is gone for three months because he has to go to the academy," Villamaino explained. "With [Fire Chief Richard Brady] retiring, we recognized that the department would be down two full-time firefighters."

Houle is already a certified firefighter, having been trained by the department as a call firefighter, but it is the department's policy to send new hires that are certified to the academy for additional training and reinforcement when its next class opens.

Capt. Paul Morrissette, who was identified as one of two finalists for the full-time chief's position, was named the acting chief upon Brady's retirement.

The Board of Selectmen scheduled interviews for Morrissette and Deputy Chief Stephen Rybacki after an internal search, but Rybacki pulled his name from consideration, prompting the temporary appointment of Morrissette.

Villamaino said instead of giving Morrissette the title of chief outright, the board planned to seek guidance prior to making any decisions regarding the command of the department.

"We plan to meet with the Public Safety Advisory Committee and ask them for recommendations," Villamaino said when asked if there were plans for any future interviews for the position.

While not the most likely of scenarios, in the event of the Public Safety Advisory Committee recommending the town conduct an external search and an external candidate emerging over Morrissette for command of the Fire Department, the department would be in a situation where it would employ more firefighters than it has approved funding for. In this potential situation, when Morrissette and Houle return to their posts, Daponde would already be filling one of those places.

Should Morrissette eventually be be named the full-time chief, or if a new internal candidate emerges, the department would have a full roster with no conflicts.

Villamaino said that this point, several possible scenarios exist, many of which involve the continued employment of all three men, but declined to comment publicly on what those scenarios could be, citing ongoing contract and union negotiations as well as the fact that the board has yet to receive input from the Public Safety Advisory Committee.

"I would say we have to see how the chief's search and the future structure of the department unfold," he said.