UConn Health officials discuss closing of facility's fire depart - WFSB 3 Connecticut

UConn Health officials discuss closing of facility's fire department

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UConn Health officials will discuss the closure of the facility's fire department on Tuesday evening (WFSB) UConn Health officials will discuss the closure of the facility's fire department on Tuesday evening (WFSB)

People who live in Farmington are fired up about a decision to ditch the fire department at the UConn Health Center.

On Tuesday evening, residents packed a pair of public meetings and many slammed the move.

UConn Health CEO Dr. Andrew Agwunobi spoke with the community and backed the plan.

While everyone acknowledges closing the fire department and laying off 19 people was a painful decision, Dr. Agwunobi’s task was to convince people that it was a necessary decision. 

"We're changing to a model that retains firefighters and converts the model to one where we don't have a full service fire department. But we still do the functions and we still retain some of the personnel," Agwunobi said at a public meeting on Tuesday night.

Nearly two weeks ago, Agwunobi announced plans to eliminate its Farmington fire department.

He said the decision could save $3 million per year and was necessary because of a tighter state budget. Firefighters and residents with the department argue the decision is wrong.  

"I think this is pretty short sighted, and I just wish the health center would start being honest with everybody," said Farmington resident Joe Speich.

The fire department claims it went on 982 emergency calls last year on the hospital campus alone. Less than 100 of those were for fire suppression and hazmat incidents, but the firefighters’ union argues the sheer number of calls will overwhelm the Farmington and West Hartford fire departments who will be forced now to pick up the slack.  

Firefighters who declined to comment on camera also accuse Agwunobi of failing to address the residents’ questions by calling Tuesday’s meeting for the exact day and time that Farmington leaders are hosting their regularly scheduled city council meeting.  

So people could attend the meeting at the hospital and question UConn, or question city council about their plans, but it was nearly impossible to do both.

Before the meeting began, Stephen McDuell, of UConn Health Fire Department said he has hope that the health center's leaders will reverse this decision. 

“I'm very positive Dr. Agwunobi is going to see how important our firefighters are for this process, how much they really need us for the hazmat calls, different levels of situations that we deal with,” McDuell said.

The firefighters’ union says the move means 16 firefighters and EMTs will be laid off.

At the city council meeting in Farmington Tuesday night, councilors stressed that they have not been part of the decision making process, or support the plan at this point.

"Farmington certainly has no interest in taking over the responsibilities of the UConn Health Center fire department," said Nancy Nickerson.

The biggest complaint at both meetings is that the hospital has not shared the specifics of their plan with anyone.

Dr. Agwunobi says that’s because UConn must fine tune it over the next 90 days.

The department is slated to close in June.

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