McCarthy, Norwalk’s fire chief, to take over for Felner
Updated 7:39 am, Wednesday, September 2, 2015
A badly kept secret was officially acknowledged Monday when the Fire Commission voted unanimously to appoint Denis McCarthy as its new chief.
McCarthy, 59, currently the fire chief in Norwalk, as well as that city’s emergency-management director, will assume his new duties Oct. 1. He was given a five-year contract with a salary of $142,000 in his new post. He will take over the job from Chief Richard Felner, who has been with the local department since 1959, and the chief since 1999.
“I’ve lived in Fairfield for 38 years,” McCarthy said, “and I have come to know many members of the department, back to Joe Elias, and worked with the previous chiefs and certainly many of the senior members.”
Prior to going to Norwalk, McCarthy had worked for the Westport Fire Department, retiring as chief there in 2005.
McCarthy, in a statement issued after his appointment, said he is “proud of the legacy and department I am leaving behind and look forward to the journey ahead.” Among his accomplishments in Norwalk, he noted, over the last decade include overseeing construction of a new fire headquarters and emergency-operations center and firefighting safety record.
McCarthy and Fairfield Assistant Chief Scott Bisson were the two finalists interviewed by the commission for the job in July. Sources said several other members of the Fairfield Fire Department applied for the chief’s position. Bisson and McCarthy were chosen from a list of 10 candidates.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to lead the department,” McCarthy told the commission.
Felner said he’s known McCarthy for about 37 years. “We worked together when he was in Westport,” Felner said. “I’m sure he’ll carry our department forward.”
Felner’s contract was not renewed at his request. His tenure faced controversy over the last few years, first with an alleged slapping incident. An investigation found that Felner “more likely than not” slapped Asst. Chief George Gomola, but Felner faced no disciplinary action from the commission.
He was also the subject of criticism when it was discovered that some firefighters were being promoted, and thereby boosting their pensions just prior to their retirement.
“The Fairfield firefighters are looking forward to the next chapter in our exceptional department,” Assistant Chief Chris Tracey, president of the firefighters union, said. “We look forward to the leadership Chief McCarthy will bring, alongside Deputy Chief (Kyran) Dunn and anticipate continued growth of services to the residents and businesses under that leadership.”
Felner’s contract had been extended by several months earlier this year in order to finish the search for a new chief.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said he is pleased the town was able to get someone with McCarthy’s experience, who he said he has worked with at a number of emergency management conferences. He said that it’s a plus that as a Fairfield resident, McCarthy is already familiar with the town.
“I also want to thank our current fire chief, Dick Felner, for his decades of outstanding service to our Fire Department and to our town,” Tetreau said in a later statement. “Chief Felner has served with distinction and his passion for his work is always evident. The chief’s dedication to providing excellence in both service and safety to the public has made our town a safer and better place.”