Earlier this month, John Alston Jr. was appointed as New Haven’s new fire chief, though his position is pending confirmation by the Board of Alders.
Alston has already assumed control of the fire department while the Board of Alders conducts its vetting and deliberation processes on the appointment. Since Oct. 10, Alston has been serving in an “acting capacity” and will maintain that status until he is confirmed by the Board of Alders. Alston’s appointment was not an item of discussion on the BOA’s Monday meeting agenda, the most recent meeting since Mayor Toni Harp announced her choice for the new chief on Sept. 29.
Alston was present to supervise the NHFD’s response to the fire at 1187 Chapel Street last Tuesday afternoon. Battalion Chief William Gould told the News last week that Alston communicated effectively with the other firefighters at the scene. Although there were initially people trapped in the building, according to the NHFD’s Twitter account, no one was injured in the fire.
Alston’s selection comes as the culmination of a national search for a new fire chief following the retirement of former chief Allyn Wright. Wright served as fire chief for a year and eight months before retiring this past January.
Assistant Chief Matt Marcarelli took over as acting chief after Wright’s retirement until former assistant chief of operations Ralph Black came out of retirement in January to serve as interim fire chief.
Mayor Toni Harp selected Alston from a pool of three finalists for the chief position.
Rick Fontana, deputy director of operations for the Department of Emergency Management, said he and Alston have “[collaborated] essentially on a daily basis” since Alston arrived in New Haven and that he is looking forward to Alston’s leadership as well as his dynamic personality.
“I think he will be a great asset here,” said Fontana, who was also a member of the committee that selected Alston as chief.
Even though there is now someone at the helm of the NHFD, Fire Union President Frank Ricci said that the other highest positions in the department remain vacant.
“The Fire department is depleted four deputy chiefs, a chief of administration and a chief of operations,” Ricci said.
He said the highest ranking members of the department besides the chief are the battalion chiefs. Some of these senior NHFD positions, Ricci said, have been vacant for years.
Still, Ricci remains hopeful and said he sees the department moving in a positive direction.
“We are hopeful that labor and management will have a cooperative relationship to move the department forward,” Ricci said.
Director of Communications Grotheer said that after two weeks on the job, Alston has been well-received “across the board.”
Alston previously served as battalion chief in Jersey City, New Jersey before moving to the Elm City for his new job.
“Chief Alston distinguished himself throughout the screening and interview process, and New Haven is fortunate to have his fire safety expertise, experience and training ability,” Harp said in a statement to the News.
Before moving to New Haven, Alston served for 35 years in the Jersey City Fire Department.
Fontada said Alston has a wealth of experience as a fire executive, both in fire management and in homeland security.
“We were very impressed with Chief Alston from the day we met him,” Fontana said.