It may have been rainy outside on Monday, but in the New Britain Fire Department Headquarters at 225 Beaver St., there could not have been a brighter place to be.
Mayor Erin Stewart, Fire Commissioners, and a group of nearly 50 gathered for a welcoming and swearing in ceremony for newly-appointed Fire Chief Raul Ortiz.
“It has been a long road for the New Britain Fire Department the last couple of years,” said Mayor Stewart. “We have been searching for a leader. Searching for someone to ignite our department and to empower the talent that we have.”
Stewart said when Ortiz walked into her office for the interview, she knew the City had that right person.
It was because of, “the way you carry yourself, your charisma, your passion for the job,” she told Ortiz, who is the first Hispanic fire chief in the City’s history.
Ortiz has 19 years of fire service and emergency management experience. Ortiz comes from the Hartford Fire Department, where he was most recently serving as Deputy Chief. At the Hartford Fire Department, he also served as the Public Information Officer and Executive Officer. Ortiz started as a firefighter in the City of Hartford in 1999 and served as lieutenant from 2010 to 2016.
Ortiz received an American history degree from Central Connecticut State University in 1999 and is currently pursuing a masters degree in emergency management at the University of New Haven. He currently lives in New Britain with his wife Miriam and children.
Ortiz was selected after a nationwide search. A panel of fire officials participated in the interview process; the Mayor interviewed four finalists on March 19 and on April 5 recommended his appointment to the Common Council. The Council unanimously approved his selection on Wednesday, April 11.
“My hope and goals is to have a lasting relationship based on hope and trust, respect and a common purpose which is to serve the City of New Britain and its residents,” Ortiz told those in attendance. “Not a lot was expected from a kid from Hartford growing up in the conditions I did. But I am here.”
Ortiz said those that have worn the uniform before him have helped shape the department.
“I do not take this oath lightly or the responsibilities that come with this office. As chief of the department, I will ensure that my actions are always guided with integrity, professionalism, accountability and transparency,” Ortiz stated. “My priority will always be the safety of the members of the fire department and the people we serve. Life safety will and should never be compromised.”
Ortiz replaces former Fire Chief Thomas Ronalter who retired after being placed on administrative leave. Ronalter had been under fire after Daylon Hudson filed a complaint last year with the city’s human rights commission alleging racism at the fire department. Hudson was given $290,000 by the City following the complaint. A municipal review determined the department was hurt by poor morale and widespread perceptions of favoritism. It concluded that Ronalter had shown “racial insensitivity.”
Chief Paul Margentino, who is retiring, had been interim fire chief.
“I am happy to say that we finally have a Latino in the fire department. I am hoping he will do a great job because this is a big step. I am happy we have this opportunity to show some light. He has a great opportunity ahead of him.,” said Alderman Francisco Santiago. “I am also happy we swore him in across the street from the Borinqueneers Monument.”
The Borinqueneers 65th Infantry Regiment is the only active duty Latino military regiment in US history. The 65th Infantry fought for the U.S. during World War I, World War II and the Korean War in the 1950s. The City built a monument in the past few years to honor the infantry.
Ortiz began his duties immediately.