Amatrudo would be fire chief

When Wilton Fire Department Chief Paul Milositz stepped down in July, the question of who would replace him was being asked in earnest.

Deputy Fire Chief Mark Amatrudo would like to be the answer.

“I am one of, what I understand to be, a large number of candidates,” he said.

Sitting in his office at the fire station, Mr. Amatrudo said, without hesitation, “I have an interest in the position.

“I had an excellent working relationship with Chief Milositz,” he said. “He allowed me to essentially have full responsibility for all daily operations of the organization, with the exception of the fire marshal’s office.”

Mr. Amatrudo has been in charge of the department since the former chief departed.

“In the absence of the chief, the deputy chief has been in charge,” he said. “I’ve essentially assumed the responsibilities of the job.”

The primary difference between the positions are subtle.

“My primary focus is day-to-day operations, as well as the building and vehicle maintenance,” he said. “I handle a number of things in emergency management as deputy chief. The chief is the emergency management director, responsible for sheltering and a number of different components of the emergency management process.

“The chief is responsible for the activation of the Emergency Management Center. I fill the fire department senior role when we go to the emergency management center.

“The chief handles personnel matters. He handles grievances and negotiations.”

A search committee was formed to find a replacement for Mr. Milositz, headed by Gary Mecozzi, fire commissioner and vice chairman of the Wilton Fire Commission. Fellow Fire Commissioners Rich McCarty and Troy Ellen Dixon are on the committee, as well as Sarah Taffel, director of human resources in Wilton.

“My understanding is that they plan to complete the process by the end of October,” Mr. Amatrudo said.

One of 11 members of his family involved in fire service, Mr. Amatrudo’s résumé includes working as a certified public accountant and chief financial officer, along with consulting for companies involved in fire and emergency services delivery. He was also an interim vice president for the company that makes the Jaws of Life.

Along the way, he did a “fair amount of consulting and instructing” fire departments.

Originally from North Branford, he has been active in fire service since 1971. He has been part of the North Branford Volunteer Fire Department, where he is an assistant chief. Since 2005, he has been a career chief officer, first at Westport where he was an interim, and he’s been with Wilton for the past six years.

Overall, he has 24 years of experience as a chief officer.

He arrived in Wilton hoping that, one day, the opportunity to be chief would be his.

“We did not expect him to leave so quickly,” he said of Chief Milositz. “He’d been here a little over 10 years. He had always joked with us that his dream job was to drive the monorail at Disney. We took him seriously. He found an opening there and moved fairly quickly on it, and as a result, he left us.”

Mr. Amatrudo’s passion for fire safety extends beyond his daily responsibilities.

“I’m actively involved in developing and delivering training program for chief officers, mostly through the Connecticut fire academy, as well as the national fire academy,” he said. “I’m a lead instructor on the developing and delivery of fire officer certification.”

He isn’t sure that already being in Wilton gives him an advantage.

“I think it’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “My background, my education, my experience and my certification qualifies me for the position. Being in the department has got a good point, in that, if I’m promoted, I have the opportunity to hit the ground running and move things forward.

“I know the department reasonably well after six years. However, an outside candidate will look much better because you only see a small snapshot of the individual.”

There are challenges that face any fire department, but it isn’t purely the concern of fighting fires.

“Any department faces the new economy,” he said. “It has changed dramatically. The role of the fire chief has almost converted to the role of a business manager. I don’t think you can be an effective fire chief in this day and age without having a pretty good grasp of the financial component of the position where you are and the impact it has on the community.”

Mr. Amatrudo has the department working towards its new leader, regardless of the person.

“We’ve identified a number of projects we’d like to get finished so that, by November, no matter who is in that corner office, the department is in good shape.

“I’m interested in the position. I think I would fit very well. The selection committee has their work cut out for them.”

Regardless of how the process plays out, he speaks highly of the Wilton Fire Department.

“This is a good department,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of departments. The membership here is dedicated. They want to do the right thing. It’s our job to create a climate where they can do their job and meet the expectations of our customers in Wilton.”