Ridgefield firefighters to work overtime as retirees leave gap in the department

RIDGEFIELD — Career firefighters are preparing to work extra shifts over the next couple of weeks as recent retirements have left a two-man gap in the Ridgefield Fire Department (RFD).

The department is typically stacked with approximately 37 firefighters, but will be “two employees short” due to retirees, leaving just enough crew members to meet the town’s current needs, according to Fire Chief Jerry Myers.

Connecticut does not have any minimum staffing requirements for fire departments but does regulate how many firefighters can engage in an emergent situation at the same time, Jeff Morrissette, the state’s fire administrator, said.

However, in conjunction with the Ridgefield Fire Commission, local officials instituted a practice that requires RFD to have eight members working each shift. This “practice,” Myers explained, helps ensure two team members are manning ambulances and engines on every shift.

“We have the exact amount of people we need that we’re required to have every day,” Myers said. “Having less than that means we have to cover those shifts.”

Firefighters will have to work overtime to fill the two-man gap until the department hires two new members. Since David Dachinger, one of the retirees, ranked as a lieutenant, another firefighter will be promoted to fill his role.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the town agreed to the 8-man minimum and to do it on an “overtime basis, giving people more work as long as there’s not any longer than a 24-hour shift being performed.”

“Overtime could be higher but you do what you have to do,” he added.

The Ridgefield firehouse is a combination department including paid, career and volunteer firefighters. It is unionized under the IAFF Local 1739. When asked why RFD couldn’t lean on its volunteers as it searches for new members, Marconi said it could be a “problem” and catalyze “union issues.”

“You’re taking away collective bargaining work and going outside and it wouldn’t be allowed,” he added. “I would have a grievance on day one.”

Marconi said he feels “comfortable” with the current situation at RFD.

The retirees headed out

Both Dachinger and fellow firefighter Ted Peatt will be retired from RFD by the first week in June.

According to a department Facebook post, Peatt enrolled with the volunteer department in 1974 and became the volunteer chief in 1990 until he was hired as a career firefighter in 1995.

“Ted is a lifelong Ridgefield resident, so his knowledge of Ridgefield has been a real advantage,” Myers said. “He’s one of the guys who when you ask him to get something done, he gets it done.”

Dachinger joined RFD in 2008 after volunteering with other fire departments for several years prior. During his time with Ridgefield, he was involved in improving the firefighters’ fitness facility and group events, such as team races.

Dachinger was promoted to lieutenant in 2016, which he deemed a “highlight” of his career. “(It was) an opportunity to take on more of a leadership role” and help shape department operations, he said. “It’s been an honor and a blessing to be of service.”

Dachinger said he would miss putting Santa Claus on a firetruck every year to raise money for families in need. However, he looks forward to getting more restful sleep in retirement — his brain is accustomed to hearing alarms at all hours of the night, which signal that someone is in distress.

In his downtime, he and his wife plan to help first responders and cancer patients learn stress-reduction techniques.