State decision: Shelton fire marshal’s certification won’t be challenged

Shelton Fire Marshal James Tortora inspects the Howe Avenue fire scene in downtown Shelton on Jan. 6.

Shelton Fire Marshal James Tortora inspects the Howe Avenue fire scene in downtown Shelton on Jan. 6.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office (SFM) will not pursue proceedings to possibly revoke the certification of Shelton Fire Marshal James Tortora.

A recent report by the SFM’s Division of Construction Services cleared Tortora of “malfeasance” related primarily to fire code problems at Shelton High School (SHS).

“We found nothing within the complaint, reports, or conversations during the conference to indicate malfeasance on the part of Mr. Tortora,” wrote Michael Sinsigalli, panel chairman for the Division of Construction Services.

In a letter to Tortora, state Fire Marshal William Abbott wrote that “probable cause does not exist that you performed the duties of your office in an incompetent or negligent manner.”

 

Office reacted to complaint

The decision follows a meeting — technically called an informal conference — at which Tortora was able to respond to allegations made against him in a 2011 written complaint from Ben McGorty, who is a deputy fire marshal in Shelton.

The SFM had decided in 2013 to begin administrative proceedings against Tortora, based on the complaint, but the new decision means that process will not be pursued.

“The panel’s report … determined that you satisfactorily addressed the facts and conduct giving rise to the action and, consequently, recommend that the Office of SFM not institute administrative proceedings for the possible revocation of your certification,” Abbott wrote in his letter to Tortora.

Tortora declined to comment on the SFM’s decision, noting he still has pending legal action to try to clear his reputation. Some previous lawsuits filed by Totora claiming defamation on the matter have been thrown out by the courts.

 

Shelton High fire code violations

Following the 2011 complaint against Tortora, the SFM had issued a report that found 579 fire code violations at SHS, some of which remain outstanding today.

City and school officials have said they are working to fix all the problems, some of which they say involve relatively minor issues.

Violations cited involve the doors, wall barriers, emergency and exit lighting, signage, windows, clearances, spacing between items, and other problems.

 

Staffing issues, building inspector role

According to the SFM panel’s recent report, Tortora said his office “was very short staffed” from 2002 to 2007 for the number of fire inspections that needed to be done.

Shelton Fire Marshal James Tortora at a major fire scene.

Shelton Fire Marshal James Tortora at a major fire scene.

Tortora now has a deputy assigned to inspect schools exclusively, the report said.

As for claims Tortora had failed to identify fire code violations during the 2006 addition and renovation project at SHS, Tortora countered he had pointed out problems to the building inspector while they looked at the SHS work together, and the building inspector took notes at that time, according to the report.

Tortora produced building inspection reports from three years and said the building inspector had not followed up with him before issuing a certificate of occupancy, the report said.

“Mr. Tortora,” the panel report stated, “produced sufficient documentation during the conference to show that inspections were conducted and documented by the building office.”

 

Third parties handles some work

The report noted the city had used outside parties to handle some SHS code compliance reviews due to deadlines, and that Tortora now is part of a city committee to rectify fire code violations at SHS.

The report said a formal license revocation hearing against Tortora shouldn’t take place because the city of Shelton hasn’t moved to remove him, no “malfeasance” was found, and the state fire code “allows a local fire marshal to accept the reports of the local building official concerning code compliance review or inspection in lieu of conducting the review and/or inspection himself or herself.”

 

Recommendation: Attend class

In his letter, Abbott did reiterate a panel recommendation that Tortora “develop a system for tracking violations and for following through on paperwork, as well as improve the quality control of inspections conducted by your staff.”

Abbott specifically suggested Tortora attend a three-hour course being offered by the state in May.

 

 

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