|By G. Michael Dobbs
Springfield Fire Commissioner Jospeh Contant
Reminder Publications submitted photo
SPRINGFIELD The occasion of Joseph Contant taking the oath of office on Jan. 24 as fire commissioner for Springfield had, as master of ceremonies Anthony Cignoli noted, a backdrop of a long and significant history.
Springfield, Cignoli said, first established its Fire Department in 1794 and had the first motorized department in the nation.
There was history for Contant was well as he was a second-generation firefighter. He said his father became a firefighter in the city when Contant was four years old in 1970.
"Everything I have now is from the Springfield Fire Department," Contant said.
His late father was represented by his firefighter's helmet.
Contant had served as interim fire commissioner after the retirement of Gary Cassenelli and he said he is "dedicated to moving the department forward."
An advocate of professional development, Contant said, "The fire service is constantly changing and department leaders who don't make this conversion will be left behind."
As commissioner he pledged to continue to work to merge police and fire dispatch operations for greater efficiency and will be looking at buying smaller four-wheel drive vehicles to answer medical calls. He added this would aid in lengthening the life of a fire truck as well as saving money on fuel.
State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan, who said the many emergencies that have occurred in the city from the June 1, 2011 tornado to the more recent gas explosion on Worthington Street have caused him to visit Springfield often. He lauded Contant's service to the city.
Coan said he has "observed [Contant] as a leader of his men and women of his Fire Department."
He added, "I'm very pleased to call the Mayor [Domenic Sarno] and the commissioner my friends."
Sarno addressed the controversy surrounding Conant's appointment, as he did not meet with the standards for the job that had been set by the Finance Control Board. The mayor thanked the City Council for waiving the regulations.
Sarno said when asked why the city did not undertake a national search for fire commissioner his reply was, "There was no need. There was a proven commodity right here in the ranks."
The mayor said he had met Contant in December 2010 when there was major fire at the Indian Orchard Mills. He said he subsequently saw Contant at the emergencies that followed.
"In some disastrous situations some people rise to the occasion ... Joe did exactly that," Sarno said.
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