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Union gives Wyskiewicz's campaign some firepower
By: RICK GUINNESS , Herald staff

NEW BRITAIN - A crowd of 150 rallied Tuesday against Republican Mayor Timothy Stewart and in favor of his Democratic challenger, Jim Wyskiewicz.
Firefighters came from communities including Stamford, Hartford, Tolland, Danbury and Fairfield, as well as New Britain, to share anti-Stewart, pro-firefighter union rhetoric that has been a theme throughout Wyskiewicz's campaign. The bulk of the crowd wore yellow T-shirts saying "firefighters for Wyskiewicz."
They worried that the mayor is out to gut their contract, which he is - for the greater good, he says.
The challenger offered salvation.
"Never again will firefighters have to endure this kind of abuse perpetrated by my opponent," Wyskiewicz said, adding that if elected he would "offer firefighters a seat at the table."
This event was different from other Wyskiewicz/firefighter get-togethers because it included the state's most powerful Democrats - Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Comptroller Nancy Wyman, who praised firefighters, took shots at Stewart and gave Wyskiewicz a plug.
"We need someone who will support firefighters," Wyman said."We need to have safety in every town with enough firefighters getting paid what they should be getting paid."
Bysiewicz said that when firefighters get together, "We know what a powerful force they are.
"I wouldn't be here supporting Jim if it wasn't for you," Bysiewicz told the crowd, although she admitted she had strong ties with Wyskiewicz - and joked that their last names rhyme.
Before leaving the rally to attend a road dedication in Plainville in honor of Marine Corp. Stephen Bixler, who was killed in action, Blumenthal said, "Even if I didn't support Jim Wyskiewicz, I would because of all that you do."
Stewart later said "Bysiewicz and Blumenthal were both there to get support from firefighters statewide when they run for governor. All they are looking for is garner as much support as they can."
The rest of the speakers were wildly anti-Stewart, starting with Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, who blasted Stewart for swearing during a 2005 phone call dealing with flooding. An audio clip was posted on the Internet by an anonymous prankster.
Stewart, awoken at 2 a.m., can be heard on the tape saying he would like to choke the firefighter who gave out his private number to flood victims - whom he put up in a hotel.
Stewart was a New Britain firefighter for 18 years, and a union vice president. He claims he was shunned by his own union for being a Republican who supported former mayor Linda Blogoslawski.
"He is still a brother," said Connecticut AFL-CIO president John Olson. "But he is a disgusting brother."
Stewart, however, said, "I've never been their brother and that's why they don't like me," They turned their back on me 15 years ago. They stopped me from getting promoted, they tried to get me fired. This is not a union; it is an assassain group. If you are not in their little clique, they assassinate your character. There are people in the union that are afraid to speak out because they don't want to be ostracized like I was."
"There is no vendetta on my part ... I have too much to deal with besides their petty politics," he said.
Union President Ed Preece, who was passed over for promotion even though he scored highest on the liutenants exam, accused Stewart of lying and retaliating agtainst union leaders for exercising their rights.
Preece and International Association of Firefighters president Harold Schaitberger called on the crowd to support Wyskiewicz and get out the vote for the election.
Rick Guinness can be reached at or by calling (860) 225-4601, ext. 236.

Union seeks 4th full-timer in Groton City Department
GrotonHundreds of members of the firefighting community, their families, and local residents rallied outside the City Municipal Building in freezing temperatures Tuesday night to push for the city to increase its fire department staffing levels. 
Some came from as far away as Westport, New Britain and Tolland. They wore yellow T-shirts, carried signs that read “Our community, our firefighters 4 safe staffing,” and passed out stickers of the number “4.” 
  Four is the number of firefighters that City of Groton Fire Department union members say should be required, by contract, for each shift. Their contract, which expired in June, requires three firefighters per shift.   Union president Daniel Tompkins estimates the addition of a fourth firefighter per shift would cost about $50,000 a year. 
  Union members say their contract, which has been referred to the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration, hinders the ability of firefighters to respond to emergencies, threatening both their safety and the safety of city residents. 
 Tompkins said federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations require a bare minimum of four: a firefighter must enter a burning house with another firefighter, in addition to two people outside as backup.  
That means a shift of three firefighters that responds to a fire either has to wait for aid from volunteers or other departments before going inside, or risk their lives by ignoring safety guidelines. 
“If there's life in there, you're going,” said City of Groton firefighter Rick McGuigan. “That's my job.” 
“If a person's house is on fire, how am I going to explain I have to wait?” said another city firefighter, Kevin Zoilkovski. 
When a department is short-handed, the mentality changes from containing a fire to one room, to hoping firefighters can just contain it within the entire house, he said. 
The department has 15 paid firefighters, plus the chief and deputy chief, and also relies on volunteer firefighters to cover both the City of Groton and the West Pleasant Valley Fire District. 
Paid firefighters are supposed to man three shifts of five per shift, but Tompkins said that often doesn't happen because of vacation or sick time. 
The number of volunteers, meanwhile, has dropped from 32 to 10 in the past 10 years due to increased training requirements, candidates having less time to devote to the job, and a city population of elderly, low-income and working-class residents that doesn't lend itself to volunteerism, said George DeVirgilio, a captain with the Eastern Point volunteer company.  
Tompkins said the department's problems were showcased during three house fires in recent months. A fire on Latham Street in November and another on Baker Avenue on New Year's Day resulted in heavy damage to the homes when only a small number of city firefighters could respond. 
A Jan. 6 fire on Ramsdell Street, however, happened during a shift change, so both shifts could respond quickly, put out the fire, and save the house, Tompkins said.  “It's a crystal clear picture of what happens when you don't have enough firefighters,” he said. 
Tompkins, along with other residents, urged the City Council at its meeting Tuesday night to make the contract change.  
Though Mayor Dennis L. Popp maintained he would not negotiate the firefighters' contract in public, he said contract discussions involved more than just staffing.  
“Staffing is just one of the issues that they have put on the table,” he said. “This is as much about contract negotiations as it is about safety.” 
He said the reality is that serious fires will happen. 
“No amount of manpower is going to save those structures if they get out of control,” Popp said.  
He named several Groton fire departments that rely on mutual aid and volunteers, pointing out that the Latham Street fire had 38 firefighters respond, Baker Street had 33 and Ramsdell 23.  
“Sometimes mutual aid can respond quicker than our own,” he said. 
Some shifts have five people and some have four, he said. The reason for a three-man shift is so that “everyone can have the time off they are due,” he said. 
 Councilor Marian K. Galbraith suggested a committee consider whether the department should undergo an independent safety analysis. Popp said he would refer it to the public safety committee.

News articles from various TV stations