By Steven Fletcher
Current and former deputy fire chiefs from Falmouth, Providence, R.I., and Michigan are all among what are now five finalists to become Gloucester's next permanent fire chief, with the city's local search committee indicating it will take approximately two weeks before making its final recommendations to Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
Glen Rogers, deputy chief for the Falmouth Fire Department; Eric Smith, deputy chief of the Westland, Mich., Fire Department; and Tim McDaniel, a retired deputy chief of the Providence Fire Department each underwent a two-hour interview with Gloucester's Fire Chief Search Committee Saturday.
All three said that, if chosen, they would work with the city and the firefighters' union to meet residents' fire and emergency medical service needs.
The remaining two finalists, Acting Gloucester Fire Chief Steve Aiello and Miles Schlichte, a Gloucester deputy chief and the city's head of emergency management, are slated to be interviewed in public session today beginning at 4:30 at City Hall.
All are vying under a new city ordinance and search process that, with the removal of the chief's post from Civil Service guidelines, has been open to candidates from outside the department and city for the first time in many years. The next chief will also be the city's first full-fledged, permanent fire chief since Barry McKay retired in March 2009. Phil Dench had served as interim chief for just shy of three years before he also retired at the end of February.
McDaniel served for 32 years in the Providence Fire Department. He started his firefighting career as a call firefighter before moving up the ranks to Deputy Chief.
Soon after becoming a deputy, he said, he decided he would retire. McDaniel said he applied for the Gloucester job because he realizes he now wants to continue work in fire service.
In his interview Saturday, McDaniel noted that Gloucester's fire department is just a little more than a sixth the size of the Providence department, which McDaniel said was around 600 strong when he served.
Despite the size difference, McDaniel said he believes he would adapt well to the city's fire department, which faces similar issues regarding staffing.
Gloucester has two frequently, if not regularly, closed fire stations, and operates on a minimum staffing of 14 firefighters. He also said he'd work with the union and the mayor's office to make sure the department was staffed appropriately, and in line with national safety standards.
But to do that, he said, requires two things. A fire department that's visible in and supported by the community, and reallocating resources within the department budget, and applying for state and federal grants.
"Gloucester is a perfect candidate for grant funding," he said.
Rogers has served for 12 years as the deputy fire chief in charge of operations in the West Falmouth Fire Department. He noted that community is of similar size, demographics, and budget constraints to Gloucester.
He said he has spent 26 years as a paramedic and began his career as a call firefighter in the 1980s.
Rogers said he'd like to see the department increase its level of EMS capability, through additional paramedic training for members who aren't yet paramedics, and possibly another ambulance. He also said he sees a need to improve response times.
Gloucester runs one ambulance and a backup rescue team. The department's medical and rescue runs bring in about $900,000.
But, to the outskirt areas, he noted, the department has around an 11-minute response time. The recommended response is about six minutes from when a 911 call comes into the station.
"The 11-minute response is unacceptable," Rogers said.
He said keeping Bay View station open is critical, and shifting West Gloucester might help response to Magnolia. But the department has to live within its budget, Rogers added. Shifting some of the city's EMS revenue into an enterprise fund might help with that, he said.
Smith is a current deputy chief from the Westland Fire Department in a city that sits some 28 miles west of Detroit.
He's served there for 20 years. His department, he said, is of similar size to Gloucester's fire department, but faced stringent cuts during the economic downturn, which hit Detroit and Michigan especially hard.
He noted that his department made use of federal grants to retain staff.
He, too, said he recognizes the need for departments to live within their budget, and use whatever methods possible when it comes to shifting funds within the budget, or seeking grants to supplement it.
Ultimately, he said, the fire department needs to educate the community on what services it can provide with the budget it has available.
"The community decides the level of service it's willing to pay for," he said.
Dr. Richard Maybury, the search committee member who led the interviews, said it would be about two weeks before members make their final recommendations.
The committee, he added, is still waiting on the final data from consultant Municipal Resources Incorporated's assessment center data. All of the finalists went through a police assessment center on Friday.
Maybury had said the committee initially had six semifinalists, but one had dropped out before the interviews. The sixth semifinalist had also been from outside Gloucester, sources have told the Times, but that candidate was not identified.
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at email@example.com.