STAMFORD – Robert “Rex” Morris, who has served as interim fire chief for three months, is the city’s new permanent chief, Mayor Caroline Simmons announced Monday.
Morris has commanded Stamford’s five volunteer fire companies since 2014, when he was named assistant chief of volunteer services. Before that, Morris had a distinguished career with the Fire Department of New York, including time as captain of an elite rescue unit in Manhattan.
“With a career in the fire service that spans over 50 years, I am confident that Chief Morris has the qualifications, expertise, and professionalism to lead the Stamford Fire Department, and I look forward to working with him in this permanent capacity,” Simmons said in an emailed announcement.
The appointment is subject to approval by the Board of Representatives, which on Jan. 2 voted unanimously to extend Morris’s acting chief status for 60 days.
Simmons named Morris acting chief on Oct. 2, the day former Chief Trevor Roach retired after more than 36 years with the Stamford Fire Department. Roach was chief for eight years.
Morris, who was born in Stamford, started his fire service as a volunteer with the Belltown Fire Department on Dorlen Road.
“I am proud and honored to be placed in command of such a great organization,” Morris said in Simmons’ statement. “I want to thank the officers and members of the Stamford Fire Department for their support during my interim time and especially to Mayor Simmons for her support and confidence in me.”
The statement said the mayor’s office “conducted an extensive search and lengthy interview process that consisted of internal and external candidates for the position.”
Public Safety Director Lou DeRubeis said he looks forward to working with “Morris, the fire command staff, and the men and women of the Stamford Fire Department as we continue to enhance fire operations and safety.”
In November Morris appeared before the city’s elected boards to make a case for a provision in the new firefighters contract that doubles the number of deputy chiefs, and their aides, from one set per shift to two sets, for an additional $1.1 million per year.
The fire department has to catch up with the city, which is growing at the fastest pace in the state, Morris told elected officials.
“A firefighter in this city has to be able to operate in a high-rise apartment building, and also be able to set up a rural water supply in North Stamford, bringing in tankers from other districts,” Morris said during a board meeting. “It’s a very unique situation. But … firefighting has kept static as the city has grown.”
Deputy chiefs respond to incidents when three or more fire companies are called because they are needed to establish command, which is crucial to good outcomes, Morris said.
The 12 largest cities in New England have two deputy chiefs on duty at all times, and most have three, Morris said. Stamford has one. So it often takes a deputy chief more time to respond, and there are more firefighters to manage on scene, Morris said.
He told elected officials that the Stamford Fire Department responds to about 12,000 incidents a year, and deputy chiefs are called to about 2,000.
Stamford has roughly 60 structure fires a year, and with a deputy chief establishing command, firefighters can knock one down in 20 minutes, Morris said.
The last time the fire department increased staffing was 2016, even as buildings have become increasingly complicated, he said. “Complexity of buildings is what I think about all the time,” Morris told elected officials.
He joined the Fire Department of New York in 1973, worked in all five boroughs, earned more than two dozen meritorious awards, and ended his career there as captain and company commander of Rescue Co. 1, a unit specially trained for complex rescue operations.
Stamford now has “more buildings taller than five stories than any two cities in the state,” and “one of the highest numbers of tall buildings in all of New England,” Morris told elected officials.
“I came from the fire department in New York City,” Morris said. “We have to think that way now.”