A new generation has been welcomed to the leadership ranks of the Fairfield Fire Department.
The town's Fire Commission on Tuesday night voted unanimously to promote two lieutenants to assistant fire chief and five firefighters to lieutenant effective as of Friday.
Lts. Schuyler Sherwood and Erik Kalapir will fill the two vacancies in the assistant chief position, and Firefighters Dennis Eannotti, James Shiller, Joseph Swindon, Jeff Edmondson and Robert Smith will become lieutenants.
"Every one of these fellows that made it deserved it," said Fire Chief Richard Felner. "They're going to do an outstanding job."
Sherwood and Kalapir are filling vacancies initially created by the recent retirements of Douglas Chavenello and Stephen Curry.
Their retirements and several others in the Fire Department over the last year sparked controversy recently when, in the absence of an active promotional list, they were provisionally promoted to vacant jobs that they held only briefly before retiring at a higher salary -- a practice that also boosted their pension benefits.
A promotional list has since been adopted, and another two lieutenant positions are expected to be available in the next few weeks, officials indicated.
Leadership positions in the Fire Department are the chief, deputy chief, six assistant chiefs and 21 lieutenants. Four of the assistant chiefs work on the line as shift commanders, while one works in the Fire Marshal's office and another works at the Fire Training Center, said Assistant Chief Christopher Tracy.
"We're looking at a third of lieutenant spots being filled in the next couple of weeks and half of the shift commanders," Tracy said. "It's an exciting time -- exciting for them and exciting for the department."
Sherwood, a 23-year veteran of the department, said the Fire Department is "in a time of transition, and I'm looking forward to being a part of that."
"We have a great Fire Department in Fairfield and being able to be part of the next generation of management serving the town of Fairfield is an outstanding opportunity," Sherwood said after the commission meeting in Sullivan-Independence Hall.
Sherwood said he served as a volunteer firefighter in Easton before joining the department and has spent his entire career preparing to be an assistant fire chief. "All of us that made officer have been able to do that because of the support we received from the chief and other officers," he said. "They provided us the opportunity and tools to give back to the community."
Kalapir, a nearly 20-year veteran of the department, said he was ecstatic to be promoted to assistant chief. "This is a great opportunity. Unfortunately, we've had a lot of turnover, we've lost a lot of senior men and we're in the process of rebuilding," he said. "We're laying the bricks of a new foundation."
"Because we've had so many guys retire, things are moving very quickly, and change is coming very fast," Kalapir said.
Gomola, a 32-year veteran of the Fire Department, said Sherwood and Kalapir would do a great job in their new positions. "I've watched both Erik and Schuyler develop and mature, and I have great respect for the efforts they've put forth in preparing for this position," he said.
Gomola said he was pleased when Kalapir, after learning he would be promoted, told him he was nervous about doing a good job. "To me, that means he understands the enormity of the position and that it's a position of service," Gomola said. "I have no doubt he will excel at that position along with Schuyler Sherwood."
Smith, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1426 and a 17-year veteran of the department, said he was looking forward to becoming a lieutenant. "We're in a period of huge transition and I'm looking forward to being part of the leadership for that transition," he said. "It's a huge lifestyle change. You're going from being a guy in a crew to being a guy in charge of a crew."
Eannotti, a nine-year veteran of the department, said he'd prepared to become a lieutenant from the time he joined the department and that it is an exciting time to advance due to the leadership transition under way.
The commission on Tuesday night also voted unanimously to approve a list of firefighters who will be in line for future promotions to lieutenant and assistant fire chief. In order, they are: Lts. Patrick Barry, Roger Caisse, John Cronin, Darrick Lundeen and Philip Higgins, who are eligible in the future for promotion to assistant chief, and, in order, Firefighters Scott Trembley, Brian McHugh, Joseph Galla, Jeff Pinckney, Jonathon Catandella, Thomas Pond, Kevin Polcer and Finn MacDaniel, who are eligible in the future for promotion to lieutenant.
The promotional list, which is good for 18 months, was based off written and oral exams given in January and seniority points based on time in rank, Gomola said.
Felner said a public ceremony honoring the promoted firefighters will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Fire Station 1 on Reef Road. "We'll get all the families together. There'll be hors d'oeuvres and a little spread," he said.
Fire Commission Chairman Richard Popilowski, said the town is fortunate "to have such a wonderful group of individuals serving in our Fire Department."
"We thank them for their service to our community and for keeping us safe," Popilowski said.