Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Mayor taps assistant chief to head Fire Department

By: Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
April 30, 2007

VERNON - With more than 30 years of service to the town, First Assistant Fire Chief William M. Call has been selected by Mayor Ellen L. Marmer to replace retiring Fire Chief Robert Kelley.

Call's appointment to head up the mostly volunteer department of about 170 members will be presented Tuesday at the regular meeting of the Town Council, which must approve the promotion to make it official.

A lifelong Vernon resident, Call, 52, has been a member of the volunteer Fire Department for the last 34 years, and has been employed for more than 20 years as a firefighter in the Hartford Fire Department, now holding the rank of captain.

He is the acting deputy chief of training for the capital city department, and has been Kelley's right hand in Vernon since the early 1980s.

"He's well respected by the whole Fire Department and is well versed in all the latest improvements and training methods," Kelley said, adding that in Hartford, Call instituted the management software the town department is using today.

"That's certainly a big plus for us," Kelley said.

Call said today that he would wait for the appointment to be official before discussing any plans.

He did say, however, that he wanted to follow in Kelley's footsteps.

Kelley "had an excellent relationship with the council as far as budgeting goes," Call said about his predecessor. "He is a no-nonsense kind of guy without any political games - a straight-shooter, and I'd like to emulate that."

For example, some departments will submit their budget requests much higher than necessary, knowing the council will require cuts.

Kelley never played that game, Call said, and as a result, found support from the council when needed.

"If we ever got into a situation where a fire truck blew up or we needed emergency money, we knew the town would help us" because of Kelley's straightforward approach, Call said. Kelley was "tough with a buck, and because of that the town would always back us, regardless of political party."

Call said he also wants to make those in management more of a stakeholder in the department, and needs to increase the roster.

At some point, the town may have to consider some form of a paid department, he added.

"Our problems are not unique to Vernon," said Call, who pointed out that the job of a volunteer firefighter is time consuming and that recruitment is down.

People are working two jobs, have children or school responsibilities, and find it difficult to commit to a busy volunteer fire department, he said.

Call said he sees the problem in his own family.

Son Alex and daughter Jessica are both members of the volunteer department. But Alex is still in high school and Jessica is in college and home only on weekends, Call said. Between studies, part-time jobs, and social obligations, the two have little time right now left over for the fire department.

While the department has 170 members, fewer than 90 are active firefighters, Call said, with the remainder made up of junior cadets and the ladies' auxiliary.

"Our most valuable resource is not equipment or fire trucks - it's our people and we have to support them," he said.

Both Kelley and Call say they are hopeful the appointment goes through without a hitch Tuesday night so the transition might be smooth.

Kelley's retirement is effective July 1.

"I hope we don't see the same thing the police chief went through, but we'll see tomorrow night," Kelley said this morning.

Last fall Republican Town Council members questioned Marmer's hiring of Police Chief James Kenny, saying she didn't follow the town charter and personnel regulations and that the search to replace retiring Police Chief Rudolph Rossmy should have been expanded.

The police chief's position was advertised internally only. Four employees were eligible - a captain and three lieutenants - and only two applied.

Republicans asked for an outside legal ruling, and in January the Hartford firm of Siegel, O'Connor, O'Donnell & Beck determined that under the charter Marmer's appointment of Kenny was valid.

©Journal Inquirer 2007