NORWICH — The first Coffee with the Chiefs event was held on Saturday at Deja Brew in downtown Norwich, where area residents gathered to meet Norwich Fire Chief Jan Papelino and Norwich Police Chief Rodney Marsh, ask questions, and discuss concerns.
"Most everybody is talking about the homeless problem," said Marsh. "I try to read every single report, and I see that the officers are dealing with them, and I said, well this person did this, and they actually put their address as homeless."
"I see it every day. It's this person, and this person, and it's just like, I don't know. I don't know what the answer is," he continued. "It’s really a county issue, too. The county has to be involved in it. But we are working on it. There’s organizations now that are having meetings every couple of weeks to try to address it. They’re not turning a blind eye to it, you know what I mean? They know it’s a problem, it is being addressed and looked at, and we’re searching for solutions."
The event was organized by City of Norwich Mayor Brian Doliver, and served as a way for residents to get to know the chiefs in a relaxed setting. Attendees were able to enjoy hot coffee, breakfast foods, and sit down for a one-on-one chat with Marsh and Papelino.
Marsh said maintaining open communication between the community and the department is crucial, and events like Coffee with the Chiefs help make that possible.
"I’m glad the mayor put it together. I think it is important that we have open dialogue, and there has to be that good community connection with the police department. If we don’t have a good relationship with the community then we can’t succeed as a department," said Marsh. "So it’s nice that the mayor’s put this together, and we can reach out and have open dialogue and just sit and talk, and get to know people. Get to know the community, and they get to know me."
The City of Norwich Fire Department utilizes both career staff and volunteers, so Papelino brought along some staff members who could also help answer questions about every facet of the department.
"One of the career staff captains came just to answer questions if somebody had a question on the career staff side, and I brought one of our volunteers," he explained. "She’s an interior firefighter, she’s an EMT, she runs calls occasionally with the career staff on the weekends when she’s not working her regular job. I mean, she’s very active in the department. So if somebody had a question from the volunteer side I figured she might be able to talk to them and answer anything they might have a question about."
While the NFD may have a unique model, Papelino said it works well for both the department and the city. Coffee with the Chiefs gave residents the chance to learn more about how it works, and why the department runs the way they do.
"I think it just gives people an opportunity to come and ask questions and try to understand how we fit into the whole public safety thing, and express any concerns they might have, and just become better educated about how the fire department works," said Papelino.
"I think we’ve got the best of both worlds with what we’ve got," he continued. "Because we have career staff, and yes there is an expense that comes along with that, but there’s also revenue from the EMS recovery that we get from that. Between that and the contracts with a couple of towns that we help supply coverage to, it covers a lot of the budget on an annual basis. So they get fast service, professional service, and I think it’s a good model for public safety."
A second Coffee with the Chiefs event is already in the works, and Marsh said the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) is also looking to host their own meet and greet event.
"Later in the year I know the mayor wants to have another one, but now the PBA wants to have an actual ‘Coffee with the Cops’ and have detectives and patrolmen, you know, people whose boots are on the ground. People that they can interact with instead of just me as the chief. So I know we’re going to do something again like this later on," he said.
As for the next Coffee with the Chiefs, Doliver said he's aiming for October of this year at The Cottage Bakery. Beyond that, he said he hopes to continue holding these events at least twice a year to maintain communication and connection between the departments and the Norwich community.
"I was just really happy, it was a good turnout," he said. "I am glad that we did this, and I’m looking forward to the next Coffee with the Chiefs at The Cottage Bakery in October."