Conn. Firefighter Unfit For Duty Placed On 'Vacation'

A Hartford firefighter cited as unfit for duty in four suspected alcohol-related incidents is on an "extended vacation."

June 14--HARTFORD -- A Hartford firefighter's string of documented transgressions while on duty, and management's response to them, are raising safety concerns in the 400-member fire department.

Douglas Caldwell, 42, of Hartford, was declared unfit for duty in four suspected alcohol-related incidents between January 2012 and April 2014, including three times in a seven-month period, according to a Courant review of departmental records.

In one case, after Caldwell was sent home from the firehouse on suspicion of alcohol use, he returned to the station later in the day against the orders of his superiors. He began shouting at the lieutenant who had initially confronted him, according to records. The police were called. After Caldwell left the second time, members questioned the security in the firehouse, and the station captain requested that the entry code be changed, the records state.

Caldwell has been placed on paid administrative or vacation leave, and has been transferred to different firehouses or shifts. Those moves have produced further friction, as firefighters who have tangled with Caldwell in the past have stated in departmental memos that they cannot work with him.

Caldwell has also faced issues off the job.

On Wednesday, Caldwell was arrested at Unity Plaza on Barbour Street in Hartford while off duty, and charged with public drinking, Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley confirmed Friday.

It was Caldwell's second off-duty incident in two months. In April, Caldwell was ejected from JR's Convenience Store, at Garden and Westland streets, following a disturbance, the store's owner told The Courant. The police were called. Caldwell was not charged in that incident.

Several fire department supervisors said in interviews that they see Caldwell's behavior and upper management's response as a safety issue.

"If you worked for some company filing papers, you couldn't get away with this," said Deputy Chief Daniel C. Nolan, head of training in the department. "We're trying to protect people's lives. You have a bad day at work here and someone gets seriously hurt or dies."

The situation has grown "bigger than Doug Caldwell," said Nolan. "It's about the credibility of the department."

Caldwell has been a Hartford firefighter for more than 12 years and is a military veteran. He has stated in departmental records that he loves the job, and he has questioned why some of those who have confronted him over suspicions of on-duty alcohol use are "messing with his livelihood." He told supervisors during some of the confrontations that he believed he was fit for duty, records show.

After the latest incident on April 9, Caldwell went out on what Fire Chief Carlos Huertas describes as "extended vacation leave" -- a category of leave that several fire officers said they had never heard of.

Repeated attempts to reach Caldwell for comment were unsuccessful.

Fire union President Vincent Fusco declined to comment on the Caldwell matter. Mayor Pedro Segarra's spokeswoman, Maribel La Luz, referred questions to Huertas.

The chief declined to respond to a list of written questions from The Courant about the on-duty incidents. With respect to Wednesday's arrest, Huertas said he was aware of the incident and that the department "will do a thorough investigation of the facts ... and take appropriate action if necessary."

Caldwell remains on accrued vacation time, the chief said.

"It is the city's general position not to comment on ongoing legal matters," said Huertas. "Other than factual details (i.e. like how long Mr. Caldwell has been employed with the city, what types of positions held, etc.) there is not much I can share with you regarding an ongoing investigation."

The chief declined to elaborate.

When The Courant pressed Segarra's office for a further response, the fire department issued this statement:

This content continues onto the next page...