Fire commissioner qualifications spark controversy - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Fire commissioner qualifications spark controversy

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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WSHM) -

The quest to permanently fill the Springfield fire commissioner position is sparking controversy.

The president of the Springfield NAACP is calling out the city for attempting to lower the educational standards for that position.

Under the current standards, the fire commissioner must have a master's degree.

"It's not what you know, it's who you know," said President of the Springfield NAACP Rev. Talbert Swan.

He doesn't want to see the educational standards lowered for whoever becomes city fire commissioner.

The opposition comes after Mayor Domenic Sarno proposed lowering the requirements to an associate's degree.

"Watering down the requirements for the sake of a single preferred candidate sends a questionable message to the rank and file of the fire department, many of whom we have spoken with," Swan said.

Even though Swan criticized the city for trying to change the qualifications at a press conference Wednesday, some inside City Hall disagree.

"You can be a classroom firefighter, or you can be a combat firefighter," said City Council member Tim Rooke.

He says a piece of paper like a degree doesn't define a firefighter.

"My question to Rev. Swan would be, when his house is on fire who does he want showing up on scene? The most qualified combat firefighter or the most book smart person who's never been on the scene of a disaster?" Rooke said.

Sarno is the one spearheading the motion. He sent the following statement to CBS 3:

"Conant's work performance with the department over the last 20 years and my personal interaction with Conant during last year's unprecedented natural weather disasters allowed me to see firsthand Joe's strong work ethic and leadership abilities."

Some City Council members aren't convinced.

"We're stressing do the best you can do, get the qualifications and then you have this," said City Council member Bud Williams.

There is a meeting on Tuesday night to continue the discussion and then City Council will vote to either change the ordinance or keep it.

If they keep the master's degree requirement they could end up conducting a national search for a fire commissioner.

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