Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is expected to appoint a replacement for recently resigned city fire chief Dennis Daniels by the end of the month, City Hall officials said.
The mayor’s decision, which may be announced within the next week, will come after he interviews six candidates recommended by a search committee. Daniels, a 27-year-veteran of the department, resigned Dec. 12 after serving over five years as chief.
Although officials said Daniels’ decision to step down was voluntary, the department has recently suffered from severe budgetary problems as well as widespread abuses of its sick leave policy.
Karen Dubois-Walton, the city’s chief administrative officer and the chairwoman of the search committee, said a new chief will have to address financial problems in the only one of New Haven’s departments to run a deficit.
“I think the fiscal situation is a citywide challenge, but it’s particularly one for the fire department,” Dubois-Walton said.
Ronald Dumas, who has served as acting fire chief since Jan. 1, said fiscal difficulties have resulted in as many as 41 vacancies in the department in recent months. But he said City Hall and the Fire Department were not at odds over the fire department’s operations.
“I meet every week with the officials at City Hall,” Dumas said. “I’d like to build that relationship and move forward.”
Dumas, who is one of the leading candidates for the position of chief, also said the department needed to continue enforcing “discipline” concerning its sick leave policy. He said sick leave abuse has declined after the department punished four violators last year.
City law requires that a new fire chief have graduated from the New Haven Fire Academy and currently serve within the fire department. While the search committee’s recommendations will be taken into account, the final decision is DeStefano’s alone.
Julio Gonzalez ’99, executive assistant to DeStefano, said he expected the mayor to make his decision in the near future, following interviews with the candidates forwarded by the committee. He said the mayor would likely choose a candidate who combined character and experience with an ability to lead the department in a difficult fiscal environment.
In addition, Gonzalez said new concerns about homeland security and terrorism have required the department to reassess its ability to respond to medical emergencies. Dubois-Walton said as much as 85 percent of the fire department’s work is medical.
“They need to be better prepared as individuals and they need to work more collaboratively with other departments,” Gonzalez said.
George Longyear, chairman of the fire commission and a member of the search committee, said all of the candidates were knowledgeable on issues of homeland security and terrorism. He also said Daniels left the department in “good shape,” despite the fiscal and disciplinary concerns.
“Chief Daniels was an excellent chief,” Longyear said. “He chose to retire, and I’m sorry to see him go.”