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Fire Commission Upholds Suspension, Holds Hope 'It's The End'

Southington fire commissioners decide to keep volunteer firefighter Steven Bull's 42-day suspension in his record, a decision Bull called "disappointing." But does it mean the end of the ongoing controversy that began in June?

The Southington Board of Fire Commissioners has decided to uphold an administrative decision that led to the 42-day suspension of volunteer firefighter Steven Bull and expressed hope that the hearing was the last in a series of actions following a confrontation between Bull and Fire Chief Harold “Buddy” Clark.

It was a disappointing decision, Bull said, and left him to be held accountable for the time it took to complete an investigation. But does it mean the end for an ongoing controversy that began in June?

“This is not really something I want to accept right now, I felt there were a lot of questions unanswered,” Bull said following a hearing at on Wednesday night. “I need to figure out if there is a next action or not.”

Bull, a volunteer firefighter with , appeared before the board on Wednesday for a hearing into his suspension, which was levied on June 11 after an apparent confrontation between the him and Clark at the scene of a Darling Street fire. It took over an hour of discussions and deliberations, but in the end the board was unanimous in their decision to keep the suspension.

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Clark and Assistant Fire Chief T. Russell Wisner were present during a brief executive session following the hearing, which Bull requested be open to the public, but left the room during executive session deliberations regarding the matter.

Commission Chairman Robert Sherman said that, as filed in Bull’s personnel report, he was suspended for violating department policy in areas of accountability and insubordination.

Insubordination is defined, under department policy, as “any unbecoming behavior of a firefighter, or behaving in any manner that is prejudicial of the department.” Sherman said after hearing from Bull, Clark and Southington Town Attorney Mark Sciota, they felt there was not enough evidence to deny a confrontation happened.

“The length of the suspension seems long, but it was an unusual circumstance due to the lengthy police investigation,” Sherman said. “We had no control over the timing and made a decision as soon as we had all the facts. The chief had the authority to make the decision he did and we agreed with it. It brings an end to it.”

The ongoing controversy began on June 11 when Bull filed a complaint with the stating he’d been assaulted and his right wrist injured in an incident between himself and Clark. , commissioners said.

Despite the accusations, a report from Lt. Michael Shanley included as a PDF above said officers found no witnesses and could not gather evidence to substantiate the claim. .

Bull said he “raised his voice in response” during the confrontation, but said he felt there was no insubordination and that he did not feel he had been unaccountable. He said he returned the tools from the response – he is part of the department’s Rapid Intervention Team, or RIT – and was discussing ventilation with another firefighter.

“I felt we were doing what we were supposed to do. We have always been encouraged to talk and learn from each other. I was talking procedures. It’s not like we were tossing a football around,” Bull said.

Following the police investigation, in order to allow Sciota to conduct a town investigation, separate from the police findings. He said the investigation was completed and Bull was allowed to return immediately.

“All of the interviews were oral. There were no written statements taken,”Sciota said when asked through a Freedom of Information request for documents related to the town’s investigation. “My report in executive session to the fire commission was also oral.”

Southington Patch also requested documents related to a cover letter provided from Shanley with the police department, but the request was denied citing Connecticut General Statue 1-210(10).

“When I receive a memo to me as the town attorney from a department head or in this case, the department of investigative services, I consider that information to be part of the attorney-client relationship and I do not release that information,” Sciota said in the response.

Commissioner Mary Baker said the board agreed with the police and town’s findings, but said the board must also now work to better educate staff regarding appeals policies given confusion surrounding the suspension length.

Baker and Commissioner Ann Dandrow said they are hopeful that with Wednesday’s hearing, the department has tied all loose ends and the department and board can each turn their focus back to their mission: continuing to provide quality fire and response services to the people of Southington.

Clark said it’s time to put the incident behind.

“Steven Bull and I fundamentally disagree with each other’s story. We have shaken hands and put this behind us and we are going to focus on doing our jobs for the Southington Fire Department,” Clark said.

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Jess T August 23, 2012 at 10:16 AM
“I felt we were doing what we were supposed to do. We have always been encouraged to talk and learn from each other." Yes, I gather such from your talking with the Chief. And does that talking you're encouraged to do include telling the truth, like when the Chief "assaulted" you by grabbing that tender, delicate wrist? That kind of talk. And now talking with the Chief, the Commission, the Attorney, have we learned, oh seeker of truth? Hopefully this will be done as it is obvious nonsense.
Richard Bull August 23, 2012 at 01:07 PM
I think the board of commissioners should be ashamed of themselves for this decision. I know that they were given a multi page report on the chiefs misdoings over the last five years which included things such as not allowing the paid help (which I have heard and believe are outstanding at their job) to a lot of abuse. one incident went as far as him slapping one of his men. there is plenty more in the report, but you will never hear it because of the lack of leadership on the board. I hope they can live with their lack of judgement, due to their fear of upsetting a fellow town represenative.
sfdvolunteersff@gmail.com August 23, 2012 at 02:03 PM
What a joke just 1 more display who is running this department the Chief or the commissioners. The chief can do whatever he wants and this is pathetic. What a sad day and the commissioners of the department is in favor of the volunteers
amf August 23, 2012 at 02:30 PM
We have shaken hands and put this behind us and we are going to focus on doing our jobs for the Southington Police Department,” Clark said. Now the chief is lieing to the press, There NO shaking of hands last night !!! Maybe in the chiefs world their was, but also in his world the sky is green and there are unicorns and rainbows everwhere.
Arthur Cyr August 23, 2012 at 03:21 PM
If the people in charge are wrong, change the people. If the process is wrong, change the procedures. If the entire organizational structure is inefficient and outdated - CHANGE IT! Isn't this the same problem we have with two or three other Boards? How sad that in 2012 the Town Council as our governing board has no control over these situations.
T. Kilt August 23, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Jess, if you were such a key witness to all this, where is your testimony? When you know what really goes on behind closed doors, what is kept away from the public & the many past complaints against the Chief, then Im sure you would change your opinion.So what u may think is "nonsense" is really just the truth being swept under the rug for the town to save face. Lets also remember that the word volunteer. Would you get up at 2am to put out a fire or rescue someone and then still having to go to a full time job the next day on no sleep? Again when you learn the real truth, then put in your 2 cents, until then, why dont u show FF Bull some support or at least not say anything at all if you dont know what really happened!!!
T. Kilt August 23, 2012 at 04:24 PM
"Sherman said after hearing from Bull, Clark and Southington Town Attorney Mark Sciota, they felt there was not enough evidence to deny a confrontation happened." Hmmm... Wasn't chief clark cleared of his charges because there was not enough evidence? I guess its different standards for FF Bull. It sounds like the commissioners are saying that Bull is guilty until proven innocent. I always thought it's supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? Gotta love how this town covers things up and ties to sweep things under the rug... Keep up the fight FF Bull, myself and MANY others who know how things TRUELY operate in this town are behind you 100%
Lucy August 23, 2012 at 04:59 PM
When responding to a fire their is a chain of command and protocols that must be adhered to to ensure everyone's safety. A firefighter was suspended because protocol was breached and the fire chief deemed his behavior to be insubordinate. Complaints were filed and investigated. The chief was cleared of wrong doing by the SPD and the town attorney. The fire board held a hearing on Mr Bull's appeal and rendered a decision based on the evidence. I wish the fire board had the gumption to hold its deliberations in public so everyone could understand how it arrived at its decision to uphold the suspension. At the end of the day it seems like two grown men excercised poor judgement in an emotionally charged situation. In the future I hope everyone learns from this incident. Let calmer heads prevail, keep your hands to yourself, your tempers in check and adhere to the protocol that is intended to ensure everyone's safety.
Arthur Cyr August 24, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Lucy - Have you read the 10 page Southington Police report on this matter? Do you know what the term "Conduct unbecoming" means?
Lucy August 24, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Art, as a matter of fact I have, thanks for asking.
Harley August 24, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Lucy- just as an FYI the board didn't base it's decision on fact's they based it on "hear-say". When members of the board were asked about the police report and the many complaints about the Chief swearing and acting in a conduct unbecoming of an officer, they said they didn't see that. If you were at any of the meetings or spoke with members of the dept. you would know this and maybe have a different opinion. As for the "Conduct Unbecoming" part of Art's question, you never did answer if you knew what it meant. If you did know then you would understand that an officer swearing and hitting personal while on a scene (and not just what happened with FF Bull, there have been other cases also) IS considered to be Conduct Unbecoming and the person who did it should be disciplined regardless of the rank!
Lucy August 25, 2012 at 04:52 PM
The deliberations by the board regarding the suspension were in executive session, as such, only the commissioners know the basis for their decision. Mr Bull requested an open hearing, in all fairness, the boards deliberations and decision should have been public as well.
Concerned August 25, 2012 at 07:49 PM
It is interesting that the supposed "leader" of the department is allowed to act in such an unprofessional manner and not receive even a reprimand. Conduct unbecoming of an officer to say the least. It grossly illustrates the impotence of the Board of Fire Commissioners and the perpetuation of the "good ole boys" network. Clark wouldn't be chief if not for Kevin Daly. Also, a $750,00 grant application without BOF or Town Council notification or approval?? Dereliction of duty to say the least.
Concerned August 25, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Lucy, as Fire Chief, Clark has the responsibility to remain calm and not let his emotions interfere with operations. He obviously did, which is inexcusable for someone in his position.
fummin August 27, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I can believe everything you say. Don't be surprised to see another complaint filed with the commission concerning the chiefs highly unprofessional actions and his inability to follow state regulations during another incident. And no hear say involved. His own written words will leave little doubt about the ego trip this guy is on. He already lied straight faced to the commission on one point. I'm sure the town will do all they can to sweep this under the carpet also. One day he WILL cause the town or some one harm with his high almighty attitude. He thinks he can just demand respect because of his position. Sorry Buddy Boy, respect is earned , not just given. Until you realize that you never will have the respect from those who you try so hard to control or have command over. ..Just remember, what goes around, comes around. Karma!! ... your day will come.
fummin August 27, 2012 at 12:23 AM
..Beginning to believe he has some kind of physcological issues,as you say, his reality seems to lie somewhere in another world.

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