With his wife, Linda, and son, Brian, in the audience, Felner, 76, read a letter to the commission, telling them he did not want his contract renewed. He had to stop several times, overcome with emotion.
"Since my first day on February 2, 1959, I have had a rewarding career serving in every capacity from rookie firefighter to chief, and all the ranks in between," Felner said. "Throughout the years I have done my best to move the department forward with advanced programming, training and emergency response, making it one of the finest departments in the state of Connecticut."
He said while his 55 years with the department have been irreplaceable, "it is time for me to move forward."
Commission members praised Felner's tenure.
"It's been an honor for me to serve on this commission under your leadership," Commissioner Charlene Lebo said. "I know you put a lot of dedication and love into the job. I wish we could keep you forever."
First Selectman Michael Tetreau called Felner an "icon," and is believed to be the town's longest-serving public employee.
Felner's recent tenure, however, has not been without controversy.
Two years ago, Assistant Chief George Gomola accused Felner of slapping him. While an investigation concluded Felner "more likely than not" had slapped Gomola, the commission did not take any disciplinary action. More recently, Felner came under fire when it was learned firefighters were being promoted shortly before retirement, which also raised their pension payouts.
The commission in March voted not to renew Deputy Chief Art Reid's contract, which expires in December of this year. One person in Thursday's audience, Rocky Sullivan, continued to press for answers as to why the panel, with virtually no public discussion, chose not to renew his contract, again asserting it was retaliation for Reid reporting the Gomola incident to the town's Human Resources Department, as he was required to do.
Tetreau said public comment at meetings is typically limited to items on the agenda, adding that since there is pending litigation over the Reid contract, it was not appropriate to comment.
The commission adopted a time line for hiring a new deputy chief, which calls for the three top candidates to be interviewed in the beginning of October. The top 10 deputy candidates will be interviewed by Tetreau and Felner, who will then forward the final three to the commission. The plan is to have the new deputy chief begin on January 1, 2015.
Tetreau and Felner also will put together a similar time line for finding his replacement as chief.