Greenwich welcomes new firemen at swearing in ceremony

It was all smiles as the Greenwich Fire Department had a swearing in and promotion. From left, Deputy Chief Robert Kick, First Selectman Peter Tesei, Lt. Shawn Morris, Brian Schwenik, Chris Zaleta, John Nixon and Chief Peter Siecienski stood together. –John Ferris Robben

It was all smiles as the Greenwich Fire Department had a swearing in and promotion. From left, Deputy Chief Robert Kick, First Selectman Peter Tesei, Lt. Shawn Morris, Brian Schwenik, Chris Zaleta, John Nixon and Chief Peter Siecienski stood together. –John Ferris Robben

Three new firemen and a rising veteran were sworn into service Monday afternoon, surrounded by family and friends at town hall. 

Firefighter Shawn Morris was promoted to lieutenant, while John Nixon, Chris Zaleta and Brian Schwenk received their badges as new members of the department.

Prior to the swearing in, Fire Chief Peter Siecienski and First Selectman Peter Tesei thanked a trio of retiring career firefighters for their service. Lieutenant Gary Texiere left the force last month after nearly 38 years of service and Firefighters Anthony Lee and John Pendergast are both leaving the force with 27 years of experience.

“I want to led my congratulations and thanks to those who have served and now retired. Thank you for your commitment to this town and remarkable tenures.” Mr. Tesei said. “If there’s any testament to the value of this role, it’s those who have retired; for those coming in to see that you’re following in some wonderful footsteps of people who have made a career here and enjoyed it because they stayed.”

Lt. Morris will fill the opening left by Lt. Texiere’s retirement. A nine-year veteran, Lt. Morris was recognized for his dedication to the department and will replace Lt. Steve Cacace in the training division under Deputy Chief Larry Roberts. Lt. Morris earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a masters in public education from the University of Connecticut and is a state certified fire marshal.

“We can go out on a limb and say it: In the course of the other careers coming up, we certainly expect you to be up here at some other time,” Chief Siecienski said of the well-qualified lieutenant.

Firefighter Nixon is the son of Deputy Chief Thomas Nixon, and chose to follow in his father’s footsteps years prior to joining the Greenwich Fire Department. Firefighter Nixon worked with the Westport Fire Department for three years, graduating from the Connecticut Fire Academy in December 2011. Previously, he gained hands on experience volunteering as a firefighter near the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.

A former Bridgeport Police Officer, Firefighter Zaleta  has several years of public service experience.

“It does me well at this point in my career, to see someone achieve what every police officer in the office of Greenwich wishes they could — become a firefighter for the town of Greenwich,” Chief Siecienski joked. “Chris we are honored to have you join us, you come highly recommended … you understand public safety.

Firefighter Schwenk is the second firefighter to arrive in Greenwich from the West Shore Fire Department in West Haven, having spent four and a half years there. All three additions to the GFD carry a strong community work background in Connecticut, and will continue to build their careers in the field.

Greenwich’s career firefighters must take part in a 14-week training program at the Connecticut State Fire Academy and six week program with the training division prior to deployment. Fighterfighters Nixon and Schwenk have already completed their state certifications, putting them that much closer to deployment. Fighterfighter Zaleta will be completing the state course work before moving on to the training division.

While the new additions to the GFD are certainly cause for celebration, they do not necessarily address concerns over the department’s staffing and deployment issues. Earlier this year, Mr. Tesei and Chief Siecienski’s budget request of $335,476 towards eight new firefighter positions was denied by the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET).

BET member John Blankley spoke out against the denial publicly, questioning whether the town’s eight fire stations are adequately staffed by the current number of career firefighters and volunteers. With the latest hires directly replacing retiring firefighters, the department can retain its standard level of manpower.

The fact that the new recruits are all arriving from other departments shows that Greenwich is a desirable destination for career firefighters, should the funds become available to expand the staff. For now, the department is glad to bring in this group of young, passionate and highly-qualified firefighters.

“Your oath is much easier to say than the police’s,” Mr. Tesei joked during the ceremony. “I’d like to do more of these  ceremonies in the near future, so let’s work on it.”

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