Commission names Russell fire chief

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Appointment is subject to borough board approving contract

By Elio Gugliotti, Editor

NAUGATUCK — A firefighter who has spent his entire 30-year career in the borough is poised to become the Naugatuck Fire Department’s next chief.

The Fire Commission June 15 unanimously appointed Deputy Chief Paul Russell to a four-term as fire chief effective July 1. The appointment is pending the Board of Mayor and Burgesses’ approval of a four-year contract for Russell.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Paul Russell is the best candidate for the position,” said Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, who is a voting member of the commission. “His historical and institutional knowledge coupled with his ability to manage and work with the firefighters is exceptional. It was a very easy choice for me.”

As of June 24, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses had not scheduled a meeting to vote on a contract. The board’s approval of the contract before the appointment becomes official is standard procedure.

When and if the board approves a contract for Russell, he will replace Fire Chief Ellen Murray, who is retiring at the end of the month. The borough looked internally for Murray’s replacement and didn’t conduct an outside search.

Hess said Russell was the only person he considered for the position.

“He’s an outstanding candidate,” Hess said.

Naugatuck Police Chief Steven Hunt said Russell is perfect for the position.

“I look forward to continuing to work with him,” Hunt said.

Russell, a 56-year-old borough native, started as a firefighter in 1990 with the Naugatuck Fire Department. He said a career helping people is what attracted him to the profession, adding former Naugatuck Fire Chief John Gaspar first piqued his interest in firefighting.

Russell said he was Gaspar’s paperboy growing up and he was always impressed with his professionalism and kindness.

“I just always thought he was just such a gentleman,” Russell said.

Gaspar was a member of the department for 34 years, his last 12 as chief. He retired in 1988 and died last year at the age of 88.

When he started as a firefighter 30 years ago, Russell said becoming chief one day wasn’t on his mind. Over his career, though, he climbed the ranks in the department. Russell became a lieutenant in 1996, second assistant chief in 2005 and deputy chief in 2017.

Russell officially retired from the department before becoming deputy chief, a non-union position, and he collects a pension from the borough. The borough doesn’t pay for health insurance for Russell, since he gets health coverage as part of his retirement benefits.

Russell said as he gained more responsibility during his career he enjoyed being able to help guide the department. Throughout his career, Russell said he always tried to advocate that everyone, whether it’s the Fire Commission or the burgesses, are all on the same team.

“I’m very appreciate and honored to be chosen as the chief of the Naugatuck Fire Department,” he said. “I promised them (the Fire Commission) I would do my best to represent the department in a professional manner.”

Russell lives in Naugatuck with his wife, Michele. They have a son, Jeff, 29, and a daughter, Hailey, 18.