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Is Fairfield fire chief on hot seat? Officials won't say

Updated 7:24 am, Friday, February 17, 2012

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  • Fire Chief Richard Felner, who has been on vacation, is the subject of unconfirmed reports about an alleged altercation between himself and an assistant chief. Photo: File Photo / Fairfield Citizen
    Fire Chief Richard Felner, who has been on vacation, is the subject of unconfirmed reports about an alleged altercation between himself and an assistant chief. Photo: File Photo

 

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Fire Commission members, after spending two hours behind closed doors Wednesday to discuss "personnel" issues and scheduling another special meeting Saturday, steadfastly refuse comment on widespread but unconfirmed reports that a dispute between two top-ranking fire officers may have turned physical.

Various sources, however, indicate the topic of the closed personnel sessions involves reports of a confrontation between Fire Chief Richard Felner and one of his assistant chiefs, George Gomola, several weeks ago.

Felner, who has been on vacation for 14 days, on Thursday denied there had been a dispute or altercation with Gomola or any other fire officer.

"I know there are all kinds of rumors flying around and being exaggerated," Felner said. He called reports of a dispute between himself and Gomola "B.S."

"I'm really on vacation," the chief said.

Asked when he would return to duty, Felner said he was not certain.

"I have vacation time that I have to use up," he said.

As for the persistent talk of a dust-up with Gomola, he replied, "I'm just letting it go and smiling."

Reached at Fire Department headquarters Thursday, Gomola said, "This is a personal personnel matter that is being handled by the town, and I really have no comment at this time."

Fairfield police officials said that, as of Thursday, they had not received, nor are they investigating, any report of a physical confrontation involving Gomola and Felner.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau and Fire Commission Chairwoman Charlene Lebo have both declined to comment because the meetings involve a "personnel" matter that they are prevented from discussing publicly.

Felner joined the Fire Department in 1957, and has been chief since 1998. In 2011, he received the John J. Sullivan Public Service Award from the Democratic Town Committee and in 2009 was honored by the town for 50 years of service as a firefighter. He was paid $150,812 in 2011.

Under his contract, which expires July 1, 2014, Felner has 28 vacation days yearly and, as of Feb. 3, had used 11 of those days, according to Human Resources Director Mary Carroll Mirylees.

In addition to his job as an assistant fire chief, Gomola also is the owner of Ash Creek Fitness on Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport. He was paid $144,680 in 2011.

Saturday's special Fire Commission meeting -- like Thursday's meeting -- will be a private executive session to discuss "personnel issues." The meeting gets under way at 9:30 a.m. in Sullivan-Independence Hall.

In attendance at Wednesday's special session, in addition to fire commissioners, were Tetreau, Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey, Selectman James Walsh, Assistant Town Attorney Eileen Kennelly and two other lawyers, Michael Rose and Robin Kallor, representing the town.

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