By Abbe Smith Register Staff
WEST HAVEN -- After more than three decades with the West ShoreFire Department, Chief Harold 'Hal' Burns has decided to retireafter two years in the top spot.
Burns has been on medical leave for about a year because of heartproblems and said his health is the reason he is choosing to stepdown. His retirement became effective Sept. 1.
Reached Wednesday at home, Burns said he had a great career andis very grateful to the citizens of the West Shore, all of thecity's firefighters and all the people who have helped him over theyears.
In his retirement letter to the Fire Commission, Burns recountssome of his memories over the 31 years he served and says beingnamed chief in 2006 was one of the 'proudest moments of my life.'
'I will truly miss the camaraderie of working with thefirefighters and the experience of working on a daily basis with theexceptional firefighters who serve the residents of West Haven,' hewrote.
Fire officials across the city expressed sadness at Burns'departure and wished him well.
'He is going to be greatly missed in the West Shore FireDepartment because his heart was in it,' said Allingtown Fire ChiefPeter Massaro, who called Burns a friend.
'He was a good chief,' Massaro added.
West Haven Fire Department Chief James P. O'Brien echoedMassaro's praise of Burns.
'He always had a tremendous passion and love for the fire serviceand I think I got to know him over the last few years very closely.We are going to certainly miss him,' he said.
Hired to the department in August 1977, Burns earned a salary ofabout $95,600 as chief and collected the same amount while onmedical leave. He will receive a yearly pension of $86,700.
Burns' decision to step down this month makes West Shore thethird fire department in West Haven in less than a year seeking tohire a new chief.
Massaro was hired in April to replace Allingtown Chief Victor J.Sampietro, and O'Brien took over the West Haven Fire Department inDecember, after the retirements of longtime Chief William S. 'Wiggy'Johnson Jr. in February 2007 and Chief William L. Abbott, who servedthe Center District for seven months.
According to the West Shore department's home-rule ordinance, theFire Commission must first consider in-house candidates for the topjob and is accepting rA(c)sumA(c)s from eligible employees.
Acting Chief David Collins said he and the department are sad tosee Burns go.
'It is unfortunate that his work was unfinished and cut short byillness,' Collins said.
The hallmark of Burns' tenure, according to Collins, was his workin getting the district to switch over to the state-run pension plancalled the Municipal Employee Retirement Fund.
Collins said the new plan, under which seven firefighters alreadyhave been hired, will save the district 'a lot of money in thefuture.'
Collins also praised Burns' dedication to both firefighters andtaxpayers. West Shore Fire Commissioner Robert Pimer said the chiefwill be sorely missed.
Commission Chairman John Biancur, who thanked Burns for his yearsof service, said Burns is the fifth retirement since July 1 andnoted that two of the retirements were not planned, which has put aburden on the department's finances.
West Shore taxpayers this year approved a budget with no taxincrease, in defiance of warnings from Collins and other fireofficials that the department will be in dire financial straits as aresult. According to Biancur, the district has enough money to covercosts right now, but 'if anybody else retires, then that wouldprobably send us into the red or change our projections.'
He added: 'I'm hopeful that we won't have any more retirementsthis year.'
Abbe Smith can be reached at email@example.com or 789-5615.