Waterbury Fire Capt. Michael Farrell had a history of suspensions and reported misconduct as a member of his hometown volunteer fire department in Avon even before he was arrested on felony charges of workers' compensation fraud and larceny after Waterbury police arrested him Sept. 7
Farrell, 48, was suspended in June from the Avon Volunteer Fire Department (AVFD) while on medical leave at AVFD and on paid injury leave from his full-time Waterbury job.
The criminal investigation was launched after an anonymous letter was sent to city of Waterbury officials. The letter stated that Farrell responded to volunteer calls in Avon while on paid injury leave in Waterbury.
The charges call into question Farrell's volunteer firefighting and Connecticut Fire Academy teaching activity while collecting about $19,558 in workers' compensation for injury leave in Waterbury, according to the court affidavit. His next court date at Waterbury Superior Court is Oct. 15 to enter his plea.
Before Farrell's June suspension as a volunteer firefighter in Avon, he was suspended three other times at AVFD.
“That’s not common in the Avon Volunteer Fire Department for a member to have multiple suspensions," Kenneth Sedlak, president of the Avon Volunteer Fire Department board of directors, said. “I just want to say that this doesn’t reflect the Avon Volundeer Fire Department as a whole. As a group, as a large majority, the men and women who volunteer do a fantastic job."
As per the department's administrative operating guidelines, Sedlak said that any AVFD member who has had two suspensions within a five-year period can be removed from the department, subject to board ratification. Farrell was suspended another time in 2008, so he could fall into that category, but Sedlak declined to comment on whether that will be the case.
"This isn’t normal for our volunteers," Sedlak said. "They show up, do their jobs and do a wonderful job and this isn’t reflective of the majority of our members.”
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SUSPENSIONS AND INCIDENTS OF REPRIMAND
Most recently, Avon Volunteer Fire Chief Michael Trick suspended Farrell for 60 days for responding to a June 6 call on Helena Road in Avon while on medical leave in Avon, according to a June 18 letter Trick sent him.
After sustaining a back injury at his place of employment in Waterbury, he was put on injury leave in Waterbury and medical leave in Avon on March 20. The Avon suspension was upheld after an internal investigation, according to another letter dated Aug. 6.
"You claimed that you responded to the call as a 'Good Samaritan' because you knew the family," stated the letter, provided to Patch with redacted signatures through a Freedom of Information request. "At no time that day did you indicate that you were reporting in a limited capacity. Rather, you took it upon yourself to investigate the matter and then called the Dispatch, provided your badge number upon request, and recommended that there was no need for the Department to respond."
Additionally, Farrell responded to a June 1 transformer explosion at the intersection of Sunset Trail and Hillcrest Drive in Avon that knocked the power out, according to department attendance records.
2011 Letter of Reprimand
Farrell responded to a structure fire on Camden Way on Dec. 10, 2011 without wearing personal protective equipment, according to a letter of reprimand Trick sent him on Dec. 20, 2011.
"I cannot condone this type of activity no matter what conditions or situations are transpiring," Trick wrote in the letter. "You not only endangered yourself by not being properly protected, but you endangered those around you. If a rescue of a fellow firefighter was needed, you would have been ineffective."
Trick said in the letter to Farrell that he had asked him twice to leave the fire scene.
In October 2008, Farrell was suspended for three months as an Avon volunteer firefighter in Company 1 after making an inappropriate comment to two women on March 6, 2006, according to documentation in a Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity (CHRO) complaint Farrell filed against the department in February 2011.
In his CHRO complaint, he claimed that he was discriminated against as a male when he was denied the promotions. The commission dismissed his complaint in May 2012 and he did not appeal.
The suspension made Farrell ineligible for promotions he applied for in November 2008 and 2009, February 2009 and August 2010. According to department policies, any department member suspended "within the last three years" is ineligible for promotions.
He was also put under probation for three months after his suspension concluded and ordered to take "sexual harassment training," according to an Oct. 8, 2008 letter from the fire department's Board of Directors.
Farrell was replaced on the board after his suspension.
Farrell was suspended for one month Sept. 8, 1998 after "removing fire department property without obtaining permission."
"As you know, the coffee table should have been borrowed through your aptain as outlined in the Administrative Operating Guidelines, DP-2," a letter from then board president Chris Roy to Farrell stated. "We regret that it was necessary to take any action."
Farrell's first suspension began on Sept. 17, 1992, according to records provided to Patch through an FOI request. The suspension lasted 30 days.
He was ranked as second deputy chief at that time.
James G. Keith, then board president, cited the reason as "gross insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer of the Avon Volunteer Fire Department."
A LONGTIME VOLUNTEER IN AVON
Farrell is a longtime volunteer in the Avon community.
He joined the fire department as a cadet in 1979, he became a regular member in 1983. He served as second lieutenant from 1985 to 1987, first lieutenant in 1990, second deputy chief from 1991 to 1994 and first deputy chief in 1995. He resigned as deputy chief later that year. In 2003, he was designated as an active veteran.
In addition to his work as a firefighter, he has been Avon Water Polution Control Authority representative since 2003 and chairman since 2010.
He is not paid for volunteering in Avon, but he did receive $5,455-worth of tax abatements from the town of Avon between 2002 and 2007 as part of a state program offered to volunteer firefighters who have served for a certain number of years, according to records provided to Patch by the Human Resources Department through an FOI request.