New Britain fire lieutenant took drugs while on duty, firefighter died of suspected overdose at home


A month-long administrative investigation showed nine firefighters in New Britain had used illegal drugs, including at least three while on the job, the town’s mayor said on Tuesday.

Eight of the nine held leadership positions, including three with the rank of lieutenant, Mayor Erin Stewart said in an interview Tuesday. One was fired for lying, she said, and the other died at home from what she called a suspected overdose. The others were forced to take 30 days of unpaid leave, demoted and placed on probation. They will be subjected to random screening tests.

The city’s investigation began when firefighter Matthew Dizney died at his Southington home in January, Stewart said, and city officials learned his death was a suspected drug overdose.

“Everyone kind of knows without saying anything,” she said.

When asked if Southington Police believe Dizney died of a drug overdose, Lt. Keith Egan replied: ‘That would be completely speculative. This will need to be determined by the state medical examiner.

A woman employed by the medical examiner’s office said autopsy results were still pending.

The entire department has received training on how to recognize and report suspected illegal drug use, Stewart said. Because most of the firefighters involved were lieutenants or drivers – who have a higher rank – others were afraid to report them, she said.

“It’s alarming to me that we had individuals who knew what was going on, but were afraid to come forward because they were their superiors,” Stewart said.

She acknowledged that there was no indication that anyone was harmed or even at risk due to drug use while on duty.

“The majority of the department, the remaining 120 firefighters, are mortified,” the mayor said.

Adderall, a stimulant, was the drug of choice, Stewart said. Although firefighters also used cocaine, marijuana, heroin and fentanyl, a very potent synthetic opioid, according to Stewart.

She said that although there were confessions of drug use and text messages about it, the police did not have enough evidence to arrest the firefighters. Police have, however, arrested others suspected of being involved in selling illegal drugs, Stewart said.

She suggested that drug use in the fire department might be higher than among the nine firefighters. A group of firefighters filed for retirement papers in recent months, she said.

During the investigation, city officials interviewed Fire Lt. Michael Yagmin. They determined he lied in an interview about what appeared in texts directed at Dizney to be drug references, records show. The texts referred to “bun” and “stack”, which New Britain police said referred to 10 bags and 100 bags of heroin or fentanyl, respectively, according to Yagmin’s termination letter. Yagmin said he was just talking about marijuana.

He was fired on February 18.

City officials then learned that other firefighters, all with the rank of lieutenant or chauffeur, were suspected of drug use. Stewart said Tuesday that in addition to Dizney and Yagmin, at least one other firefighter admitted to using drugs — specifically marijuana — on the job.

“We think at least three of them were high while they were at work,” she said.

When asked why the firefighters who admitted to using drugs weren’t fired, Stewart replied, “Look, I wanted them all fired. I did it. It was advice from the attorney, human resources and the chief to take a different approach to reform, and they wanted to give these guys a second chance to help them through their difficulties. Some have sought treatment, she said.

She also noted that apart from Yagmin, disciplined firefighters were “somewhat” truthful when questioned.

The other disciplined firefighters are: Lt. Edgar Montalvo, Lt. Tim Cyr and firefighters Wil Pabon, Jonathan Dilaire, Mark Mazza, Paul Demaio and Brandon Ortago, according to a written record provided by Stewart.

The firefighters’ union has in the past rejected city proposals to institute random drug testing for firefighters, Stewart said, voting against a contract because of drug language in 2019.

In February 2020, the union agreed to work with the city on a new drug policy as part of a tentative agreement, but the coronavirus pandemic and changes in union and firefighter leadership have delayed work. talks, she said.

Neither Yagmin, union president Ken Keough nor union attorney Eric Chester could be immediately reached for comment.

Stewart said she hopes the drug suspicion training and the work Fire Chief Raul Ortiz and Deputy Chief Peter Towey are doing to change the culture of secrecy in the department will take hold.

“I hope we nipped this in the bud,” she said. “I hope this will not continue.”

“I’m confident that we’re doing the right thing, taking the right steps, and things are going to change,” Stewart said.


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