Kingsbury takes hot seat: Q&A with Westport's new fire chief
Updated 12:27 pm, Friday, May 27, 2011
"Mayday! Mayday!" a firefighter exclaimed through his digital radio.
Immediately, Kingsbury followed a group of firefighters who rushed through the hallways in full turnout gear and helmets to attend to their colleague trapped in an elevator. There, they administered a spare tank of compressed air to the stricken man and then ushered him out of the building, away from danger.
In fact, the firefighters had staged a simulated rescue. Kingsbury served as the Fire Department's training officer in his previous position as assistant chief, and the 25-year department veteran still closely supervises firefighters' preparation for real-life emergencies.
Outside the fire station, he reviewed the rescue drill with the firefighters.
"One of the most important things is to identify yourself," he told the group. "If nothing else, if you got out, `Mayday! Mayday! Firefighter [Nick] Marsan,' and we lost connection, we would know Nick's down, and that the last time we knew, he was on the second floor."
After debriefing the firefighters, Kingsbury sat down with the Westport News in his new office at 515 Post Road East to assess the state of the Fire Department and his future leadership of the agency.
Q: What are the major challenges facing the Westport Fire Department?
A: "I think because we're a smaller department, every firefighter has to know everything, like a jack-of-all-trades. If you go to Bridgeport or Stamford, they'll have a lot of specialized companies. Our guys never know where they're going to end up in town, so they have to be trained to a little bit of a higher level.
"We're kind of a unique town -- the population increases during the day because of all of the businesses. During the rush hour times, there are a lot of people in transit. We have the two highways, I-95 and the Merritt Parkway, we have the rails, we have the shoreline, and you've got a river going through the middle of town.
"We have to be prepared. If there were a train wreck here, we'd be taking care of it. If there were a marine accident--although the police department is very well-trained in that -- we're going to end up out there, too."
Q: What is the extent of collaboration between Westport and other fire departments in Fairfield County?
A: "We all work together, we need help from our neighbors. When Fairfield calls for us, we go and help them, no questions asked. And the expectation is that when we call them, they'll help us. If this building [department headquarters] were on fire, we would need 25 or 30 firefighters as a minimum, and we only have 15 firefighters on duty in the whole town."
"And we have mutual aid if there's a big fire. If Assistant Chief [Robert] Yost were down there running the scene, he'd call the dispatcher and say, `Send me a truck company from Norwalk.' They would call and say [to the Norwalk Fire Department], `Respond to 515 Post Road East.' "
Q: How will collaboration between Fairfield County municipalities' fire departments change in the future?
A: "We're working on a fire dispatching initiative with Wilton, New Canaan, and Ridgefield. We're trying to consolidate all those towns' dispatching out of one center [in Westport], which would kind of be a bigger bang for the buck. We could have two dispatchers in the center serving four towns."
Q: The Representative Town Meeting approved a flat 2011-12 budget of approximately $9 million for the fire department. How have budgetary constraints affected department operations?
A: "You wonder how long you can go on if with some of these minimized, bare-bones budgets until it really does take a long-term toll.
"We're not in the schools doing public fire education anymore, so the kids are not seeing the fire trucks and hearing the talk from the firemen. We're making it, maybe, to the nursery schools, but anything that takes a commitment of manpower away from here, we can't afford to do it.
"We used to have open house, and open the station up on Sunday, and have the kids do all the programs. That cost a little bit to do that, and we haven't done that in two years."
Q: Which leaders do you admire?
A: "I had the great fortune of sitting through some talks by Francis Brannigan. He was never a firefighter, but he was a structural engineer. In World War II, in Norfolk, Va., the fire department kind of fell under him. His passion was building construction and teaching firemen about buildings, how fire affects them, and what the tactics should be. I always looked up to him."