The New Canaan Fire Department will alter a long-standing tradition of having its chief be a volunteer, as the Board of Selectmen appointed Assistant Chief Jack Hennessey to the position, which will now be paid, effective July 12.

"We all know and have worked with Jack," said Cheryl Jones, New Canaan human resources director, at the meeting. "He has done an incredible job in that role. He has worked well with staff, the community and volunteers, along with police and EMS. He has the budget under control. The volunteers do support this."

The HR department created the new position, formally called director of fire services, which will oversee the fire department, the fire company and the fire marshal. Current Fire Chief Ed Karl is retiring as chief after five years in the position, but will continue on as a volunteer.

"I want to thank everyone for supporting me for five years and I'm confident that Chief Hennessey will do a great job," Karl said in an interview. "I am sad that there's no longer going to be a volunteer chief, but with the time commitment, it's becoming very difficult to find people willing to do it."

Selectman Beth Jones, who has had family members who were volunteer firefighters, said she was very much in favor of the move. She said more and more of the chief's time is consumed by keeping up with paperwork, and that the job had become too much for a volunteer to manage.

More Information

Fact box

First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, a former volunteer firefighter, also supported the change.

"It's a $3.5 million budget: We need a full-time person. It's sad to see our volunteer leaders not in the post position, but it is going to be a welcome accomplishment for the town and for you," he said to Hennessey, who was seated in the audience.

As assistant chief, Hennessey has the top paid position in the department and has been in that job for seven years. He previously worked in Stamford and has been a firefighter since 1978. He said when he took the job of assistant chief, he was told the position would eventually transition to that of chief.

"Being a firefighter is the best job in the world and I'm excited to lead the department into the future," he said after the meeting.; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews