Professional Firefighters Local 944 voted overwhelmingly this week that firefighters disapprove of how the department is being managed, fire union President Paul Geer said. Geer said late Thursday that 91 percent of union members voted that they are not pleased with how the department is being managed by Chief Louis LaVecchia, who has been in charge for more than 15 years.
Geer said the action is not a vote of no-confidence, but there is disapproval concerning the LaVecchia's management. He declined to elaborate, saying he is still getting feedback from members.
It was revealed last week that LaVecchia, who has drawn significant praise for his leadership, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Police Chief Keith Mello by retiring and then being rehired as part of a separate five-year agreement, which will pay him his annual salary and pension, which is likely to approach $200,000.
LaVecchia, who has been a member of the Fire Department for 39 years, said the agreement, which has to be approved by the Board of Fire Commissioners, would allow him to retire in Milford.
LaVecchia did not immediately respond to an email for comment late Thursday.
According to the proposed contract, LaVecchia will be able to receive his approximately $90,000 annual pension, while also receiving his annual salary of $99,714. LaVecchia will also be able to cash out all of his unused vacation days, which sources said will be less than $100,000. An actual total has not yet been calculated, the chief has said.
LaVecchia has said the deal will not cost taxpayers any additional money. Also, his pension would be capped, and cannot increase.
Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. has said by rehiring LaVecchia it will bring parity to the Police and Fire departments, and he praised the fire chief for his management.
Geer said the fire commission asked the union to weigh in on the possibility of rehiring LaVecchia. He said members compiled a survey, which led to the 91 percent disapproval in the chief.
“Ninety-one percent of the firefighters expressed disapproval of the current strategies we're following,” Geer said. “It's the way he's leading the department.”
Geer declined to elaborate on specific concerns. He said firefighters wanted an opportunity to give feedback to the fire commission before it votes on whether to rehire the chief.
“The fire commission chooses who leads the Fire Department, and not the union,” Geer said.
Geer said the fire union never sought to publicize its vote against the chief, but the Register learned of the union's actions late Thursday.
LaVecchia has spoken about his love of Milford, and just recently he praised the entire department for its response to Hurricane Irene. The department is recognized by rating agencies as one of the best in the country.