The head of the UConn Health in Farmington is defending his decision to close down the 16-member on-campus fire department in June.
Dr. Andrew Agwunobi tells the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters that the closure could save as much as $3,000,000 in taxpayer dollars every year.
The firefighters and its union said they want their jobs saved and for the public to know how complex the campus is, including the type of training they do in order to keep everyone safe.
On Sunday night, an UConn firefighter put out a small fire in a dental clinic on campus in the main building. The building sustained smoke and fire damage, plus water damage after the sprinkler system was activated. Firefighters say the fire was under control as mutual aid arrived and that timing is the big concern.
Agwunobi assures the public that safety won’t be jeopardized.
"We will not allow safety to be at stake, let me put it that way. We’re a health system- safety is our stock and trade. We’re going to make sure once it’s announced our plan is to keep people safe," said Agwunobi
Agwunobi authored the recent letter announcing plans to shut down UConn Health’s fire department on June 1. He said officials will implement a more standard model that they’re still working on for the next 90 days.
"When all is said and done most if not all the FF are able to, will have jobs somewhere. We’ll retain at least six with us, there are vacancies on Storrs’ and across the state," Agwunobi added.
But, it’s not just about their jobs, Glenn Terlecki, president of the Connecticut Police and Fire Union representing the small department, said.
Terleck I said firefighters are adamant that safety will be sacrificed.
“If incidents happen on campus, the response time from surrounding communities is going to be delayed," Terlecki said.
Internal documents obtained by NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters appears to show frustration manager Kathy Eagen has with UConn not presenting a detailed model so far and says keeping firefighters on campus is “non-negotiable and necessary.”
Eagen has refused several requests to be on camera.
“The bulk of the work would be us, it’d be done internally. We obviously want the town to see the plan and weigh on any concerns before putting anything out before its final," Agwunobi stated.
UConn Fire records show that they have responded to 23 fire suppression incidents last year, along with 34 haz-mat calls.
Farmington, which only has eight fulltime firefighters and more than 135 volunteers, would continue to help put out fires on campus, but would now request mutual aid for serious haz-mat calls, both at the center and in Farmington.
“The vast majority of the work our department does isn’t fire suppression, is not fighting fires. Its very important work but its things like permitting, education, checking fire extinguishers," Agwunobi told NBC Connecticut.
“We’ve had four big larger incidents in the last six months, three caused by human error and one electrical this past weekend is still under investigation," Terlecki added.
Firefighters and union leaders remind us that it only takes on catastrophic incident.
"In the event of an emergency where response time is not done efficiently or training of people showing up on scene, there could be catastrophic damage in billions of dollars in range, if research goes up in smoke," Terlecki
Agwunobi said he’ll be present on Tuesday in Farmington for a meeting to answer questions about the move to shut down the fire department.