WEST HAVEN >> Supporters praised outgoing Allingtown Fire Chief Peter Massaro for his 38 years of service and, at Massaro’s last fire board meeting this week before taking a retirement he didn’t ask for, criticized Mayor Ed O’Brien and the Board of Fire
Commissioners for not renewing his contract.
A number of speakers also blasted the Fire Department of the City of West Haven — Allingtown Board of Fire Commissioners and its new chairman, John Panza, for their treatment of former Chairwoman Iris Diaz, who was ousted from her leadership post last month.
Diaz, the last remaining racial or ethnic minority on a commission that in the past also has had a number of African-American members, remains a member of the commission.
Massaro, who will formally retire Feb. 28, was told in mid-January to use accrued vacation time and no longer come to work. He has declined to speak to the New Haven Register about his contract or his impending retirement. But at the meeting Tuesday night in the Admiral Street Firehouse, he thanked people for their support.
“My heart is in Allingtown. It’s been in Allingtown. I worked my way up from the ranks” and “I think I did an excellent job,” Massaro told a spillover crowd of about 25 people, including a dozen or so firefighters, most who were listening to the meeting from out in the hall.
“But I think the most important thing is my men,” he said. “This department has a great, great fire department,” Massaro said, and he said to the men he has worked with, both present and former, “you’ve made me proud.”
far as the Board of Fire Commissioners goes, “you have not made me proud,” he said.
He said he’s worked with “good mayors, bad mayors. I never, had a problem with any of them,” and in the end, “I have my file to say for it all. I have nothing in there to blemish my record at all.”
He said his only regret throughout his 38-year career “is that I bowed down and went under the city,” allowing what was then the independent Allingtown Fire Department to be absorbed in 2012.
“It should have never happened,” Massaro said.
Massaro, 67, makes $98,720 a year in the job.
Panza thanked Massaro and said, “I guess we all appreciate your 38 years of service. I guess I understand the hurt feelings.”
He told the chief he wishes him well.
Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal Michael Esposito, who is running the department in Massaro’s absence, gave Massaro a slap on the back and said, “You’ve always put the department, the people and taxpayers first. Thank you.”
Speakers virtually all praised Massaro, with many offering choice words for the Board of Fire Commissioners and in some cases the mayor.
“Allingtown residents deserve so much better,” said city Councilwoman Robin Watt Hamilton, D-5, who represents much of Allingtown, a sprawling, ethnically diverse, largely working-class district in the north end of town.
“Chief Massaro, you and I have also spoken and I want to say, your affairs could have been handled differently,” Hamilton said.
Ron Walters, a former chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners who presided when the city agreed to absorb the formerly independent Allingtown Fire District in 2012, said he generally tries to keep his mouth shut these days, “but after the last meeting, I’ve got to speak my mind.”
He called the removal of Diaz as chairwoman “a done deal from the start” and said the appropriate thing would have been to draw up bylaws and maybe wait a month before voting on new officers.
Walters said Massaro “is being treated disrespectfully ... I’m just amazed that with our financial situation” a mayor is pushing a chief out just because “it wasn’t his guy.”
Now, the city is going to have to pay Massaro a pension and is “going to have to pay someone probably more than he’s making just to get somebody in here,” Walters said.
“This whole process ... the mayor had him lined up in his sights from Day One,” Walters said. “To me, this whole thing, it’s just mind-boggling. ... Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do.”
While O’Brien did not attend the meeting, in an interview Friday he denied that his decision not to renew Massaro’s contract was political — and even said that while the Allingtown Board of Fire Commissioners will conduct a search for a new chief, Massaro is welcome to apply for the job.
He pointed out, however, that Massaro’s most recent contract was signed by former Mayor John Picard on Nov. 26, 2013, just a few days before O’Brien took office — and said that despite that, he had honored that contract.
Massaro “has been a longtime public servant and he’s done a great job,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said his decision to extend Massaro’s contract — at Massaro’s request — until Feb. 28 after it expired last June 30 is evidence that he bears Massaro no ill will.
Massaro was a supporter of Picard during the 2013 election in which O’Brien came to power, and his wife, Karen Massaro, ran for Board of Assessment Appeals on the Democratic primary ticket of Nick Pascale, who opposed O’Brien in 2015.
Other speakers had plenty to say.
“I’m very disappointed in the politicians of West Haven and in the way they’re treating us,” said resident and former fire board member Margaret Krzeminski.
She pointed out that Allingtown has a large minority population, and with the exception of Diaz, “there are no minorities on this board.”
Panza nodded to the two women on the board and asked Krzeminski whether women qualified as a minority.
Krzeminski said she was referring to Hispanics and blacks.
With regard to Massaro, she said that “all of the work that Chief Massaro did” over 38 years should have been taken into account” in assessing his contract renewal.
“What happened last month was disgraceful,” said Krzeminski’s husband, Anthony Krzeminski. He told Panza that the worst thing was that after Diaz was stripped of her chairmanship, “you asked her if she wanted to be secretary.”
He called Mayor O’Brien’s statement to the New Haven Register in a story that ran Monday that Massaro is welcome to apply for the job “one of the most ridiculous statements that I’ve ever heard. You just kicked the man out!”
O’Brien did not attend the meeting.
The crowd also included a number of political opponents of the mayor, including his two announced opponents so far in the next mayoral election, Republican City Councilman David Riccio, R-At Large, and Democratic former Councilwoman Nancy Rossi.
Rossi said that recent personnel changes on the fire commission were part of what was “absolutely an orchestrated way of just shoving the chief out. ... It was political payback — and that’s what’s wrong with this city. That’s why we keep fighting.
“If the chief had been disrespectful, if he did not go to fires, if he did not protect this community, I would be right there with you,” she said.
Riccio said Massaro “served with honor and he served with distinction, and those are the qualities that we want from our leaders.
“When we make decisions that are detrimental or not in the best interests (of) the vast majority” of the citizens, “I think we are doing a disservice,” Riccio said.
Former Councilman Michael Last also was among the speakers, saying, “Allingtown has one of the greatest chiefs in the state of Connecticut. Why, when you have such a great chief, would you want to push him out?”