Friday, April 29, 2005
By James LomuscioWestportNow Special Correspondent
First Selectwoman Diane G. Farrell swears in Westport’s new Fire Chief Christopher Ackley today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.comThe classroom at Westport’s fire headquarters was so packed with firefighters, police, EMS personnel, town officials, and firefighters from other towns today that many quipped the town’s fire marshal would have to issue a summons.
But this event—the swearing in of Christopher Ackley as the town’s new fire chief—drew applause and accolades instead. Ackley, a 27-year department veteran who served as the town’s deputy chief, replaces Denis McCarthy who is leaving the chief’s post after two years to become fire chief in Norwalk.
“I’m really awed in the faith you have in me to fill this position,” said Ackley, 49, shortly after being sworn in by First Selectwoman Diane G. Farrell. “I’m going to do my best to respect that trust.”
Among the more poignant moments were when Ackley’s wife Jill took the chief’s badge unhooked from McCarthy and placed it on her husband, and the embrace between Ackley and McCarthy that followed.
“We started in this department the same day, July 10, 1978,” McCarthy recalled, “and of that group that started, Chris was the strongest firefighter. And he has continued to be the strongest firefighter. We all look up to him.”
McCarthy credited Ackley with co-founding the town’s Hazmat Team and the Joint Police Department/Fire Department Dive Team.
“When you look at what is progressive in a fire department, he’s the one who pushed us forward,” McCarthy said.
Rick Gough, who served as chief before McCarthy and has since started his own construction company in Trumbull, said seeing his former brother firefighter assume the top job was something he had to see.
“I wouldn’t miss it because it’s another step in the legacy of the department,” Gough said. “Chris will do very well. He has the respect of the department, and he’s led by example.”
Farrell described Ackley as “impetuous, tenacious and experienced.” “And he has a lot of heart,” she said about Ackley who served as an instructor for the Connecticut State Fire School and a Team Leader of the Department Mask Services Unit. “He would really lay down his life for anybody in this room ... He’s a chief who’s a firefighter first.”
Ackley, who was joined at the ceremony by his parents and siblings, as well as his wife, put a sobering spin on the party atmosphere by saying that firefighters “will always be in harm’s way and possibly killed.”
“It’s the duty of the leader to make sure that we protect them,” he added to another round of applause.
Lt. Michael Michelsen of the Wilton Fire Department said he worked many times with Ackley on shared incidents and the Hazmat Team.
“He’s a gentleman, he’s fair, he’s honest, and it’s a pleasure to see him reach this level of success,” Michelsen said.
Among Westport officials who turned out for the ceremony were Police Chief Al Fiore, Board of Finance member Gavin Anderson, and state Rep. Joseph Mioli.
“I’ve known Chris for years, and he’s been an excellent firefighter,” Mioli said. “I’m proud that we grow our own replacements in Westport and that we don’t have to go outside.”
Posted 04/29/05 at 07:50 PM Permalink