Report suggests fire chief was intoxicated at scene of Fox Hill blaze

A document suggesting that former fire chief Kevin Tappe appeared to be intoxicated at a late Saturday night fire scene has been released by the town, ending a Freedom of Information lawsuit seeking information about the town’s investigation of what was described as “a violation of town policy.”

The investigation was cut short by Tappe’s retirement Jan. 4 — which the Board of Selectmen accepted.

The description of Chief Tappe appearing to be under the influence of alcohol — or “ETOH,” a medical abbreviation for ethyl alcohol used in the document — is contained in a written statement signed by Fire Captain David McDevitt following a fire that started at about 10 on the evening of Saturday, Dec, 17 at Juneberry Lane in the Fox Hill condominiums.

Chief Tappe arrived about 10:37, according to the report.

“Upon his approach, I turned to greet Chief Tappe and witnessed him fall forward into an adjacent snow bank,” the statement says. “It appeared that he had trouble stepping over a hose line that was on the sidewalk. Chief Tappe was unable to get to the standing position under his own power. Firefighter Drew Loya and I immediately went to his aid, assisting him to the standing position and checking if he was injured.

“Although Chief Tappe appeared to have unsteady gait following the fall, he stated he was not injured. In addition I noticed that the Chief had slurred speech and he stated to me that he had fallen asleep @ 2130 hours (9:30 p.m.) and was not fully awake yet. I detected an odor consistent with the odor of ETOH when talking to Chief Tappe.”

The report goes on to describe Captain McDevitt deciding not to turn control over the fire scene to Chief Tappe and, despite the chief’s initial resistance, arranging for him to be driven home by his wife.

"I asked if he had been drinking alcohol and he said no," the statement says. "I explained to him that I detected odor consistent with ETOH, I noticed that he has had slurred speech and unsteady gait and was concerned that he had fallen into a snow bank. Chief Tappe assured me that he was fine, was not intoxicated and simply was groggy after falling asleep."

The document — about a page and half, typed, of matter-of-fact recollections and descriptions by McDevitt — was released by the town under an agreement reached by attorneys representing the town and attorneys for The News Times of Danbury, which sued to get the documents under state Freedom of Information laws.

The Press obtained a copy because it, too, had filed a Freedom of Information request seeking documents related to the investigation, although The Press did not bring or participate in the lawsuit that led to the document’s release.

“Under Freedom of Information, we are required to release any supporting documentation received relative to the investigation — and this is the only reason why this report has been released,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi Monday, March 27.

Separation agreement

The town and Tappe had a separation agreement reached as part of his retirement that stipulated neither side would make public any further information about the situation, beyond certain specified statements.

But the agreement had a clause specifically exempting information that town might have to release to comply with Freedom of Information laws.

Marconi said the information is being released now on the advice of Shipman and Goodwin, the law firm advising the town in the matter, following an agreement they’d reached with attorneys for The News Times.

“It is what it is. We have to release it,” Marconi said. “The attorneys are fully well aware of everything, and asked us to proceed accordingly.

“I would rather not release it, and protect his life,” Marconi said of the town’s former chief. “He retired, and we no longer have any issue, and wish him all the best in his retirement years.”

Former Chief Tappe has not returned a message left on his telephone concerning the document.

Read more of this story in Thursday's Ridgefield Press.