With just three months left until Phil Dench retires, the city has not yet picked the consulting company to screen the initial search for Gloucester's next fire chief.
City Council took the fire chief's position out from under the state Civil Service guidelines and mandates last January, and the new system calls for an outside consultant. That consultant will conduct the soup-to-nuts search for Gloucester's new chief, then present finalists to the city's search committee.
But while six companies have considered bidding for the search process, the city's search committee still needs to decide which company will fill that role, and will do so in the coming weeks, said member Jamie O'Hara, a volunteer with the group, Citizens for Public Safety.
According to the Purchasing Department's web page, six firms looked at the project, including Booth Research Group, of Parker, Colo.; D.I. Jacobs Consulting company of Holden; Boston-based Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management; The Sawgrass Group of Savannah Ga.; and Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, N.H.
Municipal Resources, or MRI, conducted the city's public safety department audits in 2009, and delivered the after-action reports on the Middle Street fire in 2007 and the Pleasant Street fire this March. Both reports delivered scathing views of the department's handling of the fires, noting a number of staffing and equipment issues that the city needed to address — and still hasn't.
The search for a new chief started in September, and is targeted to fil the chief's slot before Dench retires in February. City officials have cited a goal of hiring a new chief in January and having the Fire Department's new permanent leader start in March, with a month's worth of overlap with Dench to ease the transition.
The search for Dench's successor marks the city's first fire chief search outside of the state Civil Service guidelines that had previously required the city to confine its search to local candidates, often within the department.
O'Hara, who lives in Magnolia, said he sees the committee as moving at a solid pace, and isn't worried about coming up short of the January goal.
"It should be fine," he said. "We're cognizant of the schedule."
But Mayor Carolyn Kirk acknowledged that the search will be tight on time going forward.
Kirk has said the city will look at the most qualified candidates for the position, regardless of where they come from.
The search for a new chief, however, also follows a third critical review of the Fire Department, on the heels of the Lorraine fire after-action report, a 2009 management audit, and a 2011 after-action report that cited more department flaws in fighting a fire that gutted 14 Pleasant St. and heavily damaged the building at 16 Pleasant as well.
Kirk has said the city doesn't have specific goals for the new chief, but said that whoever takes over needs to follow up on the technical aspects of the Fire Department audits.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.