A day after Mayor Carolyn Kirk removed Deputy Steven Aiello from his command as the Fire Department's acting chief, Aiello said Tuesday that he understands Kirk's reasons for the move, and will work with new Acting Chief Robert DiPoli as the department transitions toward its next permanent fire chief who is due to arrive July 1.
According to Aiello, Kirk called Aiello into her office Monday, told him she had lost confidence in his ability to lead the department in the aftermath of a perceived protest at the city's Memorial Day program, and decided to replace him.
He said he doesn't dispute her right to do that. Mistakes happen, Aiello said, and he's going to help the department move forward as he returns to his role as deputy.
"I understand completely her feelings," Aiello said, "and I've agreed to work with (Chief DiPoli) and help him out."
In his 28 years with the Gloucester Fire Department, Aiello said, he's made and seen a lot of mistakes. But through those, the department has always pulled together and moved forward, he said, and they'll have to do that this time, too, he added.
"That's my advice to the troops," he said. "Do what we need to do to move forward."
Firefighters' union president Phil Bouchie said moving forward is what the union plans to do at this point. Kirk made her decision, he said.
"The union will meet with the new interim chief and we'll go from there," he said.
Kirk removed Aiello Monday for "conduct unbecoming" and failure to lead the department's honor guard at the Memorial Day observance last week. When Kirk delivered her address, members of the honor guard turned away in what it described as an unplanned protest. Aiello reiterated Tuesday that the incident, in which he participated, was not a planned or organized disruption.
After conducting her investigation, Kirk demoted Aiello Monday and brought in DiPoli, a retired Needham fire chief hire for the acting Gloucester post through Municipal Resource Inc., the New Hampshire-based consulting firm that led the city's search for a new permanent chief, to continue an internal investigation into the honor guard's Memorial Day conduct. DiPoli declined to return multiple phone calls to the Times for a second straight day.
"I think the mayor did a good job of trying to sort it out," City Councilor Joe Ciolino said. "The new chief is going to be independent, with no horse in the race, and he can investigate what happened and what the intentions were,"
Without bringing in an interim to settle this, Ciolino said, it would be difficult for current Westland, Mich., Deputy Chief Eric Smith to take the reins. DiPoli, he said, will set the stage for Smith.
Aiello said he met with DiPoli Monday and is to introduce him to the department and the city over the next few days. He said he's glad to see someone with DiPoli's credentials take the lead.
Aiello described DiPoli as a firm, common-sense kind of guy and a mentor to officers. DiPoli, who has also headed the state fire chiefs association and the International Association of Fire Chiefs, arrived to take the department reins yesterday.; his appointment carries through June 30.
Pending City Council approval, Smith is due to take over as permanent chief July 1.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.