The worst day in any Fire Chief or Police Chief's life has to be the day they lose one of their own. To compound the issue by not doing everything possible to get to the truth and facts of the death and make every attempt to change so it never happens again is absolutely wrong. I think every Chief has that responsibility and moral obligation as part of their leadership.
I recently had a conversation with Hartford's Fire Chief Carlos Huertas after the death of Firefighter Kevin Bell. Huertas told me that he had formed a Board of Inquiry to look into the death. He had apparently appointed several members to serve on the panel. At the time I commended his efforts and he said all he was interested in was getting to the truth.
Then he stunned me by telling me that he had appointed Deputy Chief Dan Nolan to head the inquiry. I don't mean that in a negative way. Chief Nolan is probably one of the most, if not the most qualified Fire professional in the State of Connecticut and also in the Military through his military service to our Country.
Dan is not the right person to choose if you want to control the outcome of the message. One thing I have learned about Dan is that he doesn't normally think about the negative repercussions. The truth is the truth with him. You may not like what he is going to say, but he is going to say it to your face, no games, no cover-ups. I have a similar problem so I guess it might be an Irish trait.
I told Huertas I was surprised by his choice since there had been some bad blood between him and Nolan recently. He assured me that they had agreed to "bury the hatchet" and the Board of Inquiry was the start of a new working relationship between the two. "In fact, I am taking Dan out to lunch next week" Huertas told me to , I guess, convince me that him and Nolan could work together.
An October 9, 2014 email from Nolan to Huertas seems to start the reconciliation process. Nolan wrote to Huertas:
. "I know we have had our differences lately but we need to put them behind us in order to provide the safest environment for the members of this department, please advise me in what direction you would like my involvement to this matter."
He said his instructions to Nolan were clear. Get to the truth wherever it goes, period. I told Huertas if that was in fact his goal, he had chosen the right guy.Numerous e-mails provided subsequent to an FOI request I made to the City seems to prove otherwise
Apparently that wasn't Huertas's intention though. The lunch never happened, communications between Nolan and Huertas broke down and Nolan was removed by Huertas as the Chairman of the Board of Inquiry. According to several sources, the Board of Inquiry has essentially been shut down. Individuals at City hall were not happy with the direction the investigation was taking and Nolan's attempts to get at the truth.
Deputy Chief Nolan was advised of his removal in an e-mail on November 9, 2014 from Huertas:
Deputy Chief Nolan,
Effective immediately You are no longer the Chair of the Board of Inquiry.
You are still a member of the Board of Inquiry per Department Directive 2.42
but I have reassigned that responsibility to Fire Marshal Roger Martin.
One of those City Hall malcontents forcing Nolan's removal may have been Corporation Counsel Saundra Kee-Borges. Kee Borges has a vested interest in the outcome of the investigation as she is by many accounts romantically involved with the highest ranking HFD member at the scene of Bell's death, Acting Assistant Fire Chief Terry Waller . Waller is reported to have not followed HFD policy by neglecting to take command of the scene upon his arrival at the Fire as is normal policy. Did Waller's actions cause any behavior that led to Bell's death or the injuries of the other firefighters? We will probably never know without a thorough and legitimate inquiry.
In the e-mail below from Deputy Chief Nolan to Chief Huertas, Nolan apparently is asking to clarify conflicting messages he claims to be getting from Huertas. Nolan is questioning the function of the Board of Inquiry after Huertas apparently told him to "stand down" due to orders received by the Corporation Counsel. Why would the Corporation Counsel have any involvement in the Inquiry?
Was it to avoid possible embarrassment to the City or was she protecting her love interest?
A more troubling e-mail describes the lengths Kee-Borges would allegedly go to to advance Waller's career. In the e-mail from Nolan to Huertas a disturbing picture is painted of Kee-Borges using her authority to play politics with the Hartford Fire Department. Nolan wrote to Huertas the following:
I can’t believe you would tell me to address my concerns with Terry Waller. Have you forgotten the conversation I had with you and Leigh Shapiro in your office a few months back, where you informed me that Mayor Segarra and Saundra Borges were forcing you to make Terry Waller the Assistant Chief or they would not make you the Chief of this department? You then went on to tell me several stories of how incompetent Terry Waller has been in his acting position of Assistant Chief. Now after sharing with me his lack of intellect and abilities you expect me to address my concerns regarding the life safety of our department members with him? How do you rationalize your hypocrisy of addressing the safety of our firefighters directly to me by pawning it off to someone you deemed inept as a leader?
I will not be contacting him regarding this grave concern for you have made it clear to me that this is far beyond his capabilities. I have tried to reach out the olive branch to you for the betterment and the safety of our firefighters, you have in return have chosen to become my adversary and refuse to interact with me directly as a competent leader would have.
I will be contacting OSHA directly on this matter, we will see how you make out pawning Terry Waller on them
D/C Dan Nolan
Much more to come on this I am sure, keep reading, this is only the beginning