UConn Health announced plans Thursday to shut down the fire department that serves the Farmington hospital campus as of June 1 and rely instead on the towns of Farmington and West Hartford for coverage.
In a letter to the UConn Health Fire Department, Andrew Agwunobi, chief executive officer for UConn Health, said that "due to ongoing fiscal pressures, after thoughtful consideration, UConn Health has decided to no longer operate a standalone fire department and its associated paramedic services on our Farmington campus."
Agwunobi said in a statement released by the university that, "Given the long and proud tradition associated with the UConn Health fire department, this was not an easy decision. However UConn Health has to make such hard choices to protect its core mission of research, teaching and patient care while dealing with the reality of financial pressures."
At a meeting with legislators Wednesday, Agwunobi said the health center is scheduled to end the current fiscal year with a $15.9 million deficit – the same amount as last year.
A spokeswoman for the health center said she could not provide a figure on how much money eliminating the department would save. The statement from the health center said it will retain some personnel, but it was not clear how many or what their role would be.
Stephen McDuell, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local S 15, which represents the fire department, said there are currently 16 firefighters employed by the health center with four job openings and that four to six would be retained. Those members will be used for fire alarm testing and other duties, but there will be no "life safety" or equipment to put out fires.
McDuell said he has concerns with the closing, as the firefighters at the health center are specially trained to deal with the hospital and to also work with the hazardous materials that can be used as part of research at Jackson Laboratories and in other research labs on the campus.
"I think this decision is going to put a huge toll on the UConn Health Center as far as safety-wise. Safety is going to be a huge risk," McDuell said.
McDuell added that a fire department like the one in Farmington, which has 147 volunteers and only eight paid members, is not trained to meet the demands posed by the health center campus.
In a statement, Town Manager Kathleen Eagen said the town "did not initiate this change and we are not encouraging it, but we understand that if the health center chooses not to operate a standalone fire department, the town of Farmington will provide emergency services."
Eagen added that UConn Health retaining personnel on the campus is "nonnegotiable and a necessary component to ensure" there is no "undue burden" on Farmington's department.
West Hartford Fire Department Union President Kerry Warren said the West Hartford Fire Department "is not in the business of taking over response to UConn. The only agency equipped, staffed and trained to handle that unique property is UConn."
Warren said right now the West Hartford Fire Department responds to the UConn campus in Farmington to assist and is not in the position to take over services at the campus.
Courant staff writer Mikaela Porter contributed to this report.