A final look at 2018's top stories...
As the calendar turns over once more, we already have begun to look ahead at what is coming in 2019. And yet we make our predictions with the knowledge that most of what we forecast will be wrong. After all, who among us predicted that 2018 would see Trumbull High School dismiss early due to flooding...and a foul smell? Or that March, which is supposed to go out like a lamb, would instead see three nor’easters strike in less than two weeks?
So before we ring in 2019, let’s take one last look back on 2018, all the surprises and headlines that made our eyes widen in surprise, our mouths curl into a smile, or both.
A century of service
What a difference 100 years makes.
The Nichols Fire Department was founded Jan. 23, 1917, in the living room of one of its charter members, and operated Model T fire trucks in its early days. Trumbull was a farming community, but with World War I raging in Europe the town had started to transform into a suburban hub for the factory workers based in Bridgeport. In January, the volunteers capped the department’s 100th anniversary year with a gala banquet attended by more than 300 people, including some who traveled hundreds, or thousands, of miles to attend.
“It was a great event, we had people from all over. One former volunteer even flew up from Mexico to be there,” said Chief Andrew Kingsbury. “The other departments in town were represented there, too. We even got a proclamation from the state legislators.”
Kingsbury said the department’s first members formed in 1917, and the state chartered the district in 1919. Before that, the area depended on Stratford or Bridgeport fire companies to respond to emergencies. Nichols Station #1 was completed in 1938. That served as the only firehouse in Nichols until Station #2 was built 35 years later.
Kingsbury, who has been a volunteer since 1980, said the changes he has seen are more traffic and larger houses in the area, but the most important aspect of the department is unchanged: the department’s commitment to serve and protect the community.
When former First Selectman Ray Baldwin was sworn in to the Police Commission in February, it marked the first time in more than 30 years that he had an official law enforcement role in town. But as his wife, Mary Ann, said, he had really never stopped being a cop.
“It’s kind of like serving in the Marine Corps — even when you leave, you never stop being a marine,” Baldwin said. “Serving on the police department was a great experience. A lot of the guys I served with, we’re friends to this day.”
Baldwin joined the department in 1971 after a four-year stint with the Marines that included a tour in Vietnam. Despite leaving the police department in 1985, Baldwin said, he never lost his interest in community policing and his desire to serve on the Police Commission was well known around town. In naming him to the panel, First Selectman Vicki Tesoro called him “a qualified and deserving citizen of the highest integrity.”
What’s that smell?
Students at Trumbull High may have been uncomfortable, but they were never in danger on a Thursday morning in February as a foul smell seeped into the building. The odor, described as sulphury and similar to natural gas, came from the school’s water neutralizer system and forced the school system to dismiss students early. The system neutralizes acids in the water, which are not dangerous but can corrode plumbing over time, according to Superintendent Gary Cialfi.
As students were informed that the school was dismissing early, rumors circulated that a gas line was leaking, which was never the case, Cialfi said.
“It was an odor issue, never a safety issue,” he said.
The problem had actually begun the day before, when a water main ruptured on Strobel Road. Both Trumbull High and St. Joseph High canceled after-school activities due to lack of water for drinking and bathroom use.
Water was restored by the following day, but when school staff attempted to flush the sediment from the previous day out of the system, the surge in demand overwhelmed the neutralizing system, Cialfi said.
With the students dismissed, school staff then ventilated the building, a process Cialfi described as long and tedious because of the building’s size. School opened normally Friday morning.
Three in 10
Early March lived up to its lion nickname, as three storms struck Trumbull in a span of 10 days. The third storm, the mildest of the three, hit the town just hours after workers had finished the cleanup from the previous storm. Some residents were without power for nearly a week. The frequency and intensity of the March weather caused significant damage around town, closing numerous public parks.
Threat mars anti-violence event
Though it wasn’t planned as part of the planned walkout demonstration in March, Trumbull High students received a message that school violence can happen anywhere when police arrested a 16-year-old student for an online threat to “shoot up” the school. The arrest was on the same day students conducted a 17-minute walkout in honor of the lives lost in last month’s school shooting in Florida.
“It’s crazy it happened, but it was impressive how the police handled it quickly and silently and no one knew until the word was out [after the arrest],” said Jenna Zakhour, one of the walkout’s student organizers. “I was surprised someone would do such a thing at Trumbull High. But yet again, this can happen at any school.”
Police were notified of the incident when concerned students and staff members approached a school resource officer with evidence of the threat on a social media site. The student had made other comments online, in addition to the shooting threat, police said.
The student was charged with threatening and breach of peace and was referred to juvenile court. The walkout exceeded organizers’ expectations, Zakhour said, with an estimated 2,000 students participating.
Just weeks later, a member of the Trumbull High Class of 2011 was arrested after police said he posted a bomb threat against the school on his Facebook page. Rushab Momaya, 23, stated that he was going to bomb the school but did not include any details in the posting, police said. Other posts included an accusation that Trumbull High was “all bullies” and a reference to Aurora, Colo., mass murderer James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured 70 others in a movie theater. When Trumbull police and officials from the fire marshal’s office responded to Momaya’s residence, they found no explosive materials or incendiary devices and concluded the threat was not credible. Momaya was charged with second-degree threatening, second-degree harassment and breach of peace.
Hillcrest is #1
In May, Hillcrest Middle School was named the Middle School of the Year for 2018-19 by the Connecticut Association of Schools. The award, based on interviews, visits and a review of students’ academic performance, was announced last week.
The committee that chose Hillcrest noted the school’s “warm and inviting welcome and sense of safety” as evidence of a “well-established positive culture and climate” where all students and staff were committed to the ideals of safety, ownership, attitude, respect, and responsibility.
“Hillcrest Middle School is clearly an exemplary school in many ways,” the committee wrote in its congratulatory letter. “The Awards Committee was duly impressed with the outstanding work going on at Hillcrest Middle School.”
The committee also recounted its site visit, and continued to heap plaudits on the school community.
“We were continually impressed with each group we met as they complimented the leadership and shared-vision of Hillcrest Middle School,” the committee wrote. “Students spoke proudly of their teachers’ availability and flexibility for extra help or conversation in the classroom and beyond their school work hours.”
The report concluded, “You are absolutely a model of what a progressive middle school should be!”
‘This is my heritage’
Visiting Cambodia last summer, Trumbull High student Emily Kong was struck by the sight of children, many younger than 10 years old, working long hours to help support their families. In a country where 45% of children are forced to work every day, and only 20% of girls reach high school, those who receive even an elementary level of education can be considered the lucky ones. In a way, Emily sees in current Cambodian children what could have been for the aunt and uncle that she never met.
“My starving brother and sister passed away in my arms,” Emily recalls her father, Chenda Kong telling her. “They would have been an amazing aunt and uncle to you.”
Chenda Kong is a survivor of one of the most devastating genocides in history. Following a period of civil war, the Khmer Rouge regime came to power and from 1975 to 1979 carried out systematic extermination of the country’s ethnic minority groups in what came to be known as the Killing Fields, a term coined by Cambodian journalist Dith Pran for the labor camps and rice paddies where there are an estimated 20,000 mass graves. Chenda and his parents managed to escape the Killing Fields, eventually reaching the United States in 1982.
Emily decided to help the country’s children get an education in some small way. Or rather, a small way by American standards, but a potential life-changing one in Cambodia.
“Kids in school there, they barely even have paper,” Emily said. “They share pencils.”
Emily raised funds online, then compiled and donated pouches full of school supplies.
“My mission is to help the people of Cambodia have better opportunities,” she said. “This is my heritage, I want to help the children who are a part of me.”
Two Trumbull police officers were arrested in connection with a Stratford domestic violence incident March 24. According to police, Michael Gonzalez, 40, and Kaitlyn Arcamone, 28, argued at Gonzalez’s home in Stratford. A physical confrontation ensued. The Connecticut Post reported that on March 24 Stratford police responded to a 911 report of a man and woman arguing at Gonzalez’s address and that the caller said the man had threatened to kill the woman. Police arrived and spoke to Gonzalez, who allegedly admitted to arguing with Arcamone. No arrests were made at the time.
Gonzalez was charged with third-degree assault, second-degree threatening and disorderly conduct. Arcamone was charged with disorderly conduct. Gonzalez was arrested again a few weeks later after he allegedly left a birthday card and note on Arcamone’s car. Trumbull police conducted an internal investigation separate from the Stratford case. Gonzalez retired from the police department on October 12, and Arcamone was terminated by the Police Commission on October 30.
Every parent that has ever stood outside in the cold and rain waiting for a school bus that showed up 15 minutes late had their wish granted in August, with the announcement that Durham School Services, the company that Trumbull has contracted with to provide public school bus transportation, was rolling out its Bus Tracker app in town this year.
The free app links a student ID to a bus. Buses are tracked using GPS so parents can see in real-time how far away the bus is.
Although inclement weather shortened Trumbull Day from three days to two, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the people in attendance as the event returned to its traditional calendar spot the weekend before Independence Day.
After a Thursday washout, Trumbull Day opened Friday with carnival rides and games. On Sunday, in scorching heat and humidity, the festivities continues from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. with rides, games, and music flooding the fields of Trumbull High School, eventually culminating in the traditional fireworks display.
On the hottest day of the year, three siblings raised $1,000 for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis research, 50 cents at a time.
The Nankervis children, Easton, 9, Baker, 7, and Sonny, 4, ran a lemonade stand for five hours. As word spread on social media, scores of residents stopped by for a cup. Within hours, they had more than $300 profit, which a neighborhood family matched. Later, the family of a local ALS nurse wrote a check that put the total at an even $1,000.
“Don’t try to tell these kids that a little idea can’t create big things, because they will prove you wrong,” said their mother, Arell Nankervis.
On October 1, the parish of St. Theresa marked the first anniversary of a Eucharistic adoration in which at least one volunteer, and sometimes as many as six or more, has maintained a continuous silent presence in the church’s chapel. Night or day, Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day, the only exception is during Holy Week, the last three days before Easter, when such practices are prohibited.
“I think, with all of the chaos in the world today, people really appreciate the opportunity to spend an hour or two in quiet, prayerful reflection,” the Rev. Brian Gannon said.
Volunteers, led by coordinator and lead schedule-maker Amy Nepomuceno, are subject to the same worldly problems as anyone else and sometimes get sick, have car trouble or have to stay late at work. When that happens they trade shifts or contact a scheduler to make sure someone comes in and prays for their hour. Sometimes that substitute is Gannon himself, whose name is on the volunteer ledger numerous times.
“You’d be surprised, sometimes I come in at 2 a.m., and there are three other people here,” he said. “It just always seems to work out.”
In 43 years living in Trumbull, much of that as a volunteer firefighter, Long Hill Fire Chief Alex Rauso has never seen anything like the flooding in town following a September rainstorm.
“From Madison Avenue to Trumbull Center, it started raining hard about 4 p.m., and then everything flooded,” Rauso said.
The rain had fallen steadily all day, which soaked the ground. Then when the skies opened the water had nowhere to go and quickly backed up the storm drains, Rauso said.
“The three fire departments responded to more than 80 emergency calls between 4 and 9:30 p.m.,” Rauso said. “Trumbull Center rescued 15 people from their homes, Long Hill had to evacuate 30 people from the Old Town Road area because there was 4-6 feet of water.”
The departments also had to rescue dozens of people from cars that were caught up in the fast-moving floodwaters, Rauso said.
“Every low-lying area or stream bed flooded,” he said. “You can’t believe how much radio chatter there was, it was hard to know who was where for a while.”
Trumbull High School students are applying to and gaining admittance to high level colleges at a higher rate than ever, and the trend appears to be accelerating. That is according to a college summary the Board of Education received in November.
The Class of 2018 sent out 597 applications to schools classified by Barron’s as “most competitive.” That is more than 50% more than members of the Class of 2015 (396). Class members received 150 acceptances at these most competitive schools, compared to 104 four years ago. Of those accepted at the elite colleges, 40 enrolled and 56 more deferred their admission.
Schools rated “highly competitive” and “very competitive” also received 28% and 33% more applications from Trumbull students than four years ago, and the 2018 graduates gained admission to those schools at a slightly higher rate than their 2015 peers.