2 firefighters file suit in West Haven promotions flap
Andy Bromage , Register Staff 08/18/2004
WEST HAVEN — Two firefighters are suing the First Fire Taxation District, claiming they have been denied promotions due them.

Capt. Robert Freeman and firefighter William Heffernan filed the lawsuit in Superior Court in New Haven last month, one day before exam results were set to expire that had put Heffernan first in line for promotion to lieutenant.

The lawsuit seeks more than $15,000 in damages and asks the court to force the fire district to promote the men.

A trial date of Oct. 26 has been set, said attorney Chip Walsh, the plaintiffs’ lawyer.

"We believe that the home rule ordinance and the collective bargaining agreement require (the district) to take action when a vacancy exists," Walsh said.

Freeman and Heffernan, both of whom are out on disability, each referred comment to Walsh on Tuesday.

The First Fire District, also known as the Center District, is served by the West Haven Fire Department, which has two deputy chiefs — one for operations and one for administration.

The collective bargaining agreement for West Haven Professional Firefighters Local 1198 is hazy on whether the deputy chief of operations position is union or management, said Fire Chief William Johnson.

The agreement requires vacant union jobs be filled within 90 days. However, management jobs are exempt, Walsh said.

The firefighters local has been without a contract for more than a year and is going to binding arbitration next month. Johnson said the deputy chief of operations job is under negotiations.

Bruce Sweeney, chairman of the district’s Board of Fire Commissioners, said both men are "fantastic" firefighters but declined further comment.

In November 2001, Freeman, a 29-year veteran, finished second on a three-year promotional exam for deputy chief.

Capt. John Patry, who finished first, was promoted to deputy chief of operations in January 2002. He retired in January 2003.

According to the lawsuit, the district failed to fill the position within 90 days, as required by contract.

Heffernan, a West Haven firefighter since 1993, ranked fifth on a two-year promotional exam for lieutenant in July 2002.

As vacancies opened and were filled, Heffernan moved up the list and is now first in line for promotion.

Failure to fill the deputy chief’s position resulted in a domino effect that meant a lieutenant was not promoted to captain and Heffernan was not promoted to lieutenant, the lawsuit says.

Attorney Louis Votto, who represents the fire district, could not be reached for comment.

Andy Bromage can be reached at abromage@nhregister.comor 789-5716.

©New Haven Register 2004

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