New Haven Fire Chief Raises Right Hand

July 24--NEW HAVEN -- Fire Chief Allyn Wright, a true son of the city, was officially sworn in Wednesday with his eyes focused on serving the residents of the Elm City.

Wright had been acting in the chief's capacity for nearly four months but the ceremony included pomp, speeches, hugs and bagpipes marking the occasion at City Hall.

Wright was sworn-in by Mayor Toni Harp with the assistance of his 5-year-old grandson, Jackson Wright, who held a Bible while standing atop a stool to reach his grandfather's hand.

The brand new fire academy class of 45 recruits that also started Wednesday lined the walls of the Board of Alders chambers in new red T-shirts.

"Chief Wright's career embodies public service and pursuit of public safety with complete dedication to the Fire Department of the city of New Haven," Harp said. "His promotion today is hard earned, well deserved and worth celebrating."

Many of Wright's family members sat in the first couple of rows in aldermanic chambers. His son, city firefighter Damien Wright, pinned the chief's badge onto his father.

Wright's nephew, also named Allyn Wright, is a community-driven walking beat cop in Westville. Their city email addresses are only one letter off from each other and they often get emails meant for the other, the elder Wright said.

The elder Wright grew up on Shelton Avenue in Newhallville and went to James Hillhouse High School, where he played basketball before graduating in 1969.

He went on to join the Fire Department in 1975. He worked his way up the ranks to assistant chief in 1998 and retired in 2000. After retirement, he went into the private sector as a security consultant and a private investigator licensed in New York.

Renowned forensic scientist Henry C. Lee welcomed Wright back to the city. Lee came to the University of New Haven in 1975. He and Wright worked together many times when Wright was a fire investigator, so much so that the two saw each other more than their wives, Lee said.

Retired State Supreme Court Justice Lubbie Harper recalled how he watched Wright grow up in Newhallville. He used to call Wright "Grits" because he was a skinny kid who was always eating in an effort to put on weight.

There is no doubt that Wright faces a number of challenges with the department, but he is up to all of them, Harper said.

Wright started working on improving morale and community outreach shortly after he came on the job in late March.

Firefighters have been going out into the community to engage youths, even with something as simple as playing a game of pick-up basketball. The initiative has been popular both in firehouses and the community.

The department should be an environment in which firefighters feel like they are making a difference and matter, Wright said. Too often the department is defined by its worst examples of misconduct.

Wright joked at the ceremony that he felt like he lost a kidney when now-retired Assistant Chief Ralph Black told him he would be retiring at the end of June. Then, a number of battalion chiefs retired and it turned into a life support situation.

He and the department are taking it one day, and one round of promotions, at a time; the most recent promotion wave was for seven sorely-needed battalion chiefs.

The massive manpower shortage is only one issue the department is facing, Wright said. Internal flare-ups often manifest in the press and the department gets a large share of criticism and scrutiny.

Use of sick time and injury leave also have to be looked at, he said. He has no patience for office politics and said every firefighter's first duty should be to the residents of New Haven.

In a previous interview, Wright said some firehouses are in need of renovation and many of the department's non-emergency vehicles need to be replaced. Any racial tension has to be addressed, as well, Wright said.

Call Rich Scinto at 203-789-5748. Have questions, feedback or ideas about our news coverage? Connect directly with the editors of the New Haven Register at AskTheRegister.com.

Copyright 2014 - New Haven Register, Conn.

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