‘Respectful and Professional’: Longtime Colleagues on Ousted Emergency Management Director

Municipal officials who have worked closely with Mike Handler for years as members of the New Canaan Emergency Operations Center describe him as respectful, professional and skilled—a description that is at odds with a picture that has been painted by the town’s highest elected official. The widely popular emergency management director resigned from the volunteer position last week at the request of First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, setting off impassioned debate among New Canaan residents who long have been accustomed to Handler’s timely and reassuring updates during emergencies, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Moynihan has said Handler’s own “conduct” brought on the request for his resignation, offering no details other than that there was an issue of “respect” and that complaints regarding Handler had come in for an extended period of time, from health officials and others. Handler called those allegations “hurtful and baseless,” and town officials responded to a public records request for any emails Health Department staff complaining about him to Moynihan in the week prior to his dismissal by saying there weren’t any. Asked for an assessment of the job Handler did with the EOC, Fire Chief Jack Hennessey said he’s worked with Handler since coming to New Canaan in 2006 and he “never witnessed any harsh or mistreatment of any of the volunteer or town staff team members working in the EOC over the numerous activations we have had in the past 10 years.”

“Mike Handler and his team has always done an exemplary job for the town of New Canaan,” Hennessey said.

Selectmen Approve $500,000 for New Fire Rescue Truck

The Board of Selectmen last week approved a $500,000 contract with a Watertown-based company to build a new rescue truck for the New Canaan Fire Department. 

Bid proposals that came in for the new truck ranged higher than the budgeted half million dollar figure, so the department removed about $41,000 in modifications to the vehicle—some of which it hopes to re-add in the future, according to Fire Chief Jack Hennessey. 

“Everything we cut out we thought we needed,” including a 360-degree camera, Hennessey said during the selectmen’s regular meeting, held Jan. 7 at Town Hall. “But we needed to make our number so we had to delete things. That was a lower-priority thing so we had to take as much stuff truck off of the truck as we could. There might be money in future budgets in other lines that we might be able to put some of these things back in.

Three Taken to Hospital After Head-On Crash on Route 123 Early Friday

Three people were transported to Norwalk Hospital early Friday after a head-on collision on Route 123, officials said. At about 6:30 a.m., a van and car crashed in the area of Smith Ridge Road south of Norholt Drive, trapping the driver of the car, according to Fire Chief Jack Hennessey. The occupants of the van got themselves out, he said. “The high energy impact required rescue personnel to use hydraulic rescue tools, saws and a winch to free the trapped driver,” Hennessey said in a press release. Smith Ridge Road was closed for more than one hour, and reopened at about 7:50 a.m., Hennessey said.

High Winds Snap Pine Tree on Norholt Drive on Monday, Damaging House

Firefighters midday Monday responded to a report of a tree that had fallen into a house on Norholt Drive, officials said. The top of a large pine tree snapped off as winds gusted more than 50 mph, damaging the rear of the home, according to a press release issued by Fire Chief Jack Hennssey. No one was injured, he said. The tree broke a window in the home, according to dispatcher reports. The National Weather Service has put New Canaan under a high wind warning through 6 p.m. Winds are blowing up to 28 mph and gusting up to 55 mph, according to the National Weather Service. 

As of 1 p.m., 54 Eversource customers were without power in New Canaan.