Connecticut City Rehires Terminated Fire Recruit

NEW LONDON, Conn. -- Alfred Mayo said Thursday afternoon he is officially a city firefighter after meeting with his attorney and accepting an offer for his job back. State and local officials of the NAACP planned to hold a press conference on the steps of City Hall at 5 p.m.

Mayo said he will begin work on Monday.

Earlier Thursday, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio told reporters that the firing of Mayo last year was not personal and confirmed the city offered Mayo his job back Wednesday.

If Mayo had been in the mayor's office during a press conference earlier today, Finizio said he'd tell him "welcome aboard" to the city fire department.

Finizio said that "unconditional" reinstatement means there were "no stipulations added" and "no special conditions" regarding the offer. Though the city has been in a budget crisis, Finizio said Mayo's back pay had been budgeted as part of the current year's budget. The attorney's fees, which Finizio said are not significant, will come out of a budget line in next year's budget that pays for small claims.

Finizio said the city budget crisis will affect the fire department, but he said he hopes not in the form of layoffs. If there were layoffs in the fire department, Finizio said Mayo could be let go because of a general "last one in, first one out" policy of seniority.

"We're doing all we can to avoid layoffs in that department," Finizio said.

Finizio said it was only "fair" to pay Mayo as if he hadn't been fired because his firing, three days before his December graduation from the state fire academy, was based on "tainted" information from the fire academy.

Mayo is the first black firefighter hired by the city since 1978 and was the only black recruit in last year's "Class 48" at the fire training school.

State Rep. Earnest Hewett, D-New London, who has championed Mayo's cause, in February called for an investigation into the state fire academy. The recent investigation and report on the academy, released April 23, faults the school for multiple procedural failures, inappropriate communications and possibly untrue allegations of recruit misconduct. Those failings were related to Mayo's experience, which included correspondence from an instructor at the school to the city.

Finizio said the city relied heavily on information received from that instructor, who repeatedly told Fire Chief Ronald Samul that Mayo had a bad attitude and was not performing well. Finizio said such correspondence about a recruit from an academy instructor is rare, which he said spoke to its seriousness.

When he heard on Wednesday that Mayo had been offered his job back, Hewett said he had to sit down he was so overwhelmed.

"It's a good thing we kept pushing this issue to make sure the truth comes out," he said.

Hewett said he met briefly with Finizio Thursday morning and told him it was a "good move." Hewett had said Mayo was "railroaded from day one," and on Thursday, said the ordeal could have been avoided. In any case, Hewett said, changes need to occur at the state fire academy. So, too, do changes need to be with how a city communicates with a recruit attending the academy, located in Windsor Locks.

"When it's your recruit, you sent him there to be trained, there should be some correspondence between the recruit and the city to say 'how's it going? Is there anything I should know?'" Hewett said. "And I want people to know: It never was about the city's firemen, they had nothing to do it. It had to do with a system that allowed recruits at the academy to be ostracized."

Hewett said his "next move" is to take a tour of the state fire academy.

"I want to see what's really going on up there," he said.

New London NAACP chapter President Donald Wilson said of the news Thursday that "if you take the time, the truth will outshine everything else."

"I'm happy they decided to take him back before it went on to a lawsuit and everything else," he said. "This was the right thing to do. It was wrong to fire him in the first place, so this makes it right."


McClatchy-Tribune News Service