Conn. Firefighter Suspended: Found Unfit Four Times

A Hartford firefighter has been suspended for 89 days for alcohol-related incidents and vowed to resign if he's declared unfit again in the next two years.

June 19--HARTFORD -- A Hartford firefighter who had been declared unfit for duty in four suspected alcohol-related incidents has been suspended for 89 days without pay.

Douglas Caldwell, 42, of Hartford, also signed an undated letter of resignation, saying he will resign if declared unfit again within the next two years, said Vincent Fusco, president of the firefighters union. The discipline followed discussions between Fire Chief Carlos Huertas and the union.

Caldwell had been on vacation leave.

Asked Thursday morning about Caldwell's change of status, Huertas declined comment.

"At this time, I cannot discuss or elaborate on an ongoing personnel matter," Huertas said.

Fusco said the unpaid suspension and the undated resignation letter "have been the way we handle what we consider strike two in the drug and alcohol policy."

If Caldwell completes the two years on the job without incident, he would earn a fresh start, Fusco said.

Hartford firefighters widely viewed Caldwell's conduct and upper management's response as a serious safety and credibility issue for the department, several fire supervisors said in interviews last week.

His unpaid suspension is the first serious discipline he has faced. Cawldwell has not responded to requests for comment.

Caldwell 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 had been placed on paid administrative or vacation leave, and had 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.

Caldwell was recently arrested at Unity Plaza on Barbour Street in Hartford while off duty, and charged with public drinking.

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 Caldwell's conduct and the belated discipline created a liability in the department.

"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 "extended vacation leave," according to a department statement.

When The Courant pressed Mayor Pedro Segarra's office for an explaination of how the city was handlign the Caldwell matter, the department issued this statement:

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