NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — Corruption in the ranks of one of Connecticut’s biggest fire departments. Both criminal and internal administrative investigations are underway after an illicit drug ring was uncovered within the New Britain Fire Department.
Spanning eight stations, the New Britain Fire Department is 113 men and women strong. But morale is low and suspicions are swirling following the death of a firefighter, which led to the discovery of the disturbing departmental drug problem.
“This is definitely a black eye on the department. It’s a black eye on the city,” said New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.
An illicit drug ring was discovered within the rank and file of the New Britain Fire Department.
“Initially it was one name, two names, three names. The names just kept coming off the evidence list,” remarked New Britain Fire Chief Raul Ortiz.
When firefighter Matt Dizney was found dead in January at his Southington home, investigators discovered his cell phone contained drug-coded text messages with a colleague, Lt. Michael Yagmin.
“Unfortunately it took the death of a New Britain firefighter for us to uncover some of the demons,” said Mayor Stewart.
FOX61 obtained Lt. Yagmin’s termination letter from February, but further investigation pointed to a deeper problem.
“Unprescribed prescription pills like Adderall, cocaine, heroin, marijuana and fentanyl in some cases,” explained Mayor Stewart.
Seven more firefighters including two lieutenants were suspected of drug activity. It cast a cloud over their community competence.
“Scary. Because it means they are not properly prepared to do their job,” said Thomas Biadley, a New Britain resident.
Rather than firing those seven firefighters, they were allowed to keep their jobs. They signed last-chance agreements, were suspended, demoted, prohibited from promotion for three years and agreed to drug rehab. Chief Raul Ortiz looked straight into FOX61’s camera to address the community.
“We apologize for any embarrassment this causes the city of New Britain,” said Chief Ortiz.
Chief Ortiz and Mayor Stewart told FOX61 they are working to change the culture.
“We have some healing to do,” said Chief Ortiz.
The suspected firefighters have all been transferred to separate departments.
“They’ve all been separated,” added Mayor Stewart.
But leadership starts at the top and Mayor Stewart said Chief Ortiz has her full confidence.
“There will be no changes in administration,” said Mayor Stewart.
“This is a societal issue and we are part of society. Our firefighters hurt. They see things, go through things, they have issues at home. We’re not exempt from that,” said Chief Ortiz.
The Mayor and Chief told FOX61 that the biggest issue that remains is getting the firefighter’s union to agree to a random drug testing policy.
FOX61 reached out to Ken Keough, the head of the union, but we have not heard back as of now.
FOX61 also reached out to the Southington Police Department about their criminal investigation. But pending toxicology results from the death of Matt Dizney, they did not comment further.
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