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Thread: Changing Role of the Urban Fire Chief?

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    Default Changing Role of the Urban Fire Chief?


    Deputy Chiefs Say 'No Confidence' in Boston Chief Steve Abraira


    Dave Wedge
    Boston Herald
    Created: May 15, 2013

    All 13 deputy chiefs say Chief Steve Abraira never assumed command during the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon.



    May 15--All 13 deputy chiefs in the Boston Fire Department have declared they have "no confidence" in Chief Steve Abraira, firing off an angry letter to the mayor saying the fire boss "failed" by balking at taking command at the deadly Boston Marathon bombing scene.

    The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Herald, blasts Abraira -- the department's highest-ranking uniformed officer -- as a "ghost fire chief" who "never announced his arrival on the radio or assumed any command authority" at the April 15 terror attack on Boylston Streeet.

    "At a time when the City of Boston needed every first responder to take decisive action, Chief Abraira failed to get involved in operational decision-making or show any leadership," the letter, signed by each deputy chief, reads. "You can unequivocally consider this letter a vote of no confidence in Chief Abraira."

    Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Tuesday night said she had not seen the letter nor spoken to the mayor about it.

    Abraira, who was handpicked for the $160,000-a-year job, said there was "no reason" for him to step in and assume command.

    "Quite honestly, I thought everything was going very well with the deputies at the scene," Abraira said last night. "If you can strengthen command or if things are going badly then yes. But in this environment, it doesn't make sense, because you have senior deputies and they do this every day. That's what I want them to do. I want to let them do what they do every day."

    Abraira, the former Dallas fire chief, said he is in "administration" and does not believe he should take command at incidents, except in extreme circumstances. Abraira, the city's first chief hired from outside the department, changed a long-standing policy last year that required the highest-ranking chief to take command at incident scenes. Abraira said he made the change to comply with "national standards."

    "If it's necessary for me to assume command of our every day operation at incidents, then something's wrong," he said.

    In addition to criticizing his handling of the marathon attack, the letter blasts Abraira for failing to take command at an electrical explosion and blackout in the Back Bay and a six-alarm blaze in East Boston. At the Eastie fire, the letter states that Abraira climbed onto a roof of an adjacent building "so that he could take a photograph of himself with the burning building in the background" for his "scrapbook."

    "We feel that if something is not done to address this situation, that eventually there will be a price to pay," the letter states. "We do not want that price to be the life of a citizen of Boston or a member of the Boston Fire Dept."


    Of the criticism, Abraira said: "People don't like change. I understand that resistance. But it's really a shame. All I can do is do the best I can for the citizens here and the firefighters. It's unfortunate we don't see eye to eye. But I am the chief of the department."

    Copyright 2013 - Boston Herald


    I fully understand where the Chief is coming from as more and more, the Fire Chief is functioning as an administrator and less and less as a fireground commander.
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    and im sure that makes you happy
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    Past Chiefs of Department were "hands on", responding to 3rd alarms and above.

    You don't get to be a fire chief by making a career of "shuffling paper" or taking advantage of photo ops.
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    I am curious how much of the criticism stems from the actual performance of his duties and how much is due to his being an "outsider"? Most people complain about being too supervised.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LaFireEducator View Post

    I fully understand where the Chief is coming from as more and more, the Fire Chief is functioning as an administrator and less and less as a fireground commander.
    That's really all you took from that article?
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    I am not paid, nor do I have any exposure to big city fire department policies. But when there is a consensus letter stating they have no confidence in their direct superior, there is a massive problem. I am not sure exactly how he states "national standards" on the highest ranking officer not taking charge. In all of my NIMS classes it was stated that the highest ranking should be briefed of the situation and when fully informed, take over.

    Regardless, if there is unanimous support for your ousting, there needs to be an in depth review. And if the fire chief is merely an administrator, why is he given the rank of chief? Should it not then be head administrator?

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    I saw this article last night, and think that there a lot more issues than simply the fact that the chief isn't taking command upon arrival.

    First, as WVFD705 said, how much of this is resistance to having an outside chief? Bringing in an outside leader has proven unpopular in a lot of departments, and to try to prove a point, the chief's subordinates may not give the support he or she needs.

    Second, is the issue of him taking a pic at the fire a big deal? Some will say yes, others will dismiss it as common practice in some departments now, especially with everyone having a camera phone. That's probably best for the members of the BFD to decide.

    Finally, the greater issue - not taking command as multi-alarm fires and other emergency incidents. Admittedly, I know little about the daily operations of the BFD (aside from their unmatched ladder work), but in a department that size, why would it be necessary for the COD to arrive and assume command? When you look at a metro or urban department, the chief is typically an administrator and political liaison, not a fireground commander. I do understand that it's been common practice for the chief to assume command on 3rd alarm and greater fires, but is it really necessary if the Battalion, Division, or Deputy Chief is managing the incident well?

    I'd love to hear from someone on the job there...
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    In my experience in an urban setting, the big difference here is that all of his top deputy chiefs are expressing their lack of confidence in the Chief's ability. That's different, and should carry more weight, than a union taking a vote to express their displeasure with some of a Chief's decisions.

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    changed a long-standing policy last year that required the highest-ranking chief to take command at incident scenes.
    End of story. COD changed the policy to not have COD take over. Sour Grapes is what this really sounds like.

    That being said....having been a COD (although much much smaller department)...I can't imagine creating a policy where the COD would not want to take charge.....isn't that the purpose of being Chief?
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    Quote Originally Posted by BoxAlarm187 View Post
    I saw this article last night, and think that there a lot more issues than simply the fact that the chief isn't taking command upon arrival.

    First, as WVFD705 said, how much of this is resistance to having an outside chief? Bringing in an outside leader has proven unpopular in a lot of departments, and to try to prove a point, the chief's subordinates may not give the support he or she needs.

    Second, is the issue of him taking a pic at the fire a big deal? Some will say yes, others will dismiss it as common practice in some departments now, especially with everyone having a camera phone. That's probably best for the members of the BFD to decide.

    Finally, the greater issue - not taking command as multi-alarm fires and other emergency incidents. Admittedly, I know little about the daily operations of the BFD (aside from their unmatched ladder work), but in a department that size, why would it be necessary for the COD to arrive and assume command? When you look at a metro or urban department, the chief is typically an administrator and political liaison, not a fireground commander. I do understand that it's been common practice for the chief to assume command on 3rd alarm and greater fires, but is it really necessary if the Battalion, Division, or Deputy Chief is managing the incident well?

    I'd love to hear from someone on the job there...
    I had always viewed the chief position as something similar to that, as well. I used to work as part of the in-house counsel of a city government. The chiefs of both the PD and FD really seemed more like GM's for the departments instead of incident commanders. Not to say they didn't like to take command of something (and bask in the attention), but they were really more of a governmental administrator than anything.

    I also wonder what the qualifications are to be deputy chief. Doesn't it take the same qualifications to be deputy incident commander that it does to be incident commander? If that's the case, are the deputy chiefs qualified for the position if the chief leaves? If they are complaining about the incidents and the lack of a qualified leader, then it would seem that the department still must retain an outside chief because the deputy chiefs were not capable or qualified.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bones42 View Post
    That being said....having been a COD (although much much smaller department)...I can't imagine creating a policy where the COD would not want to take charge.....isn't that the purpose of being Chief?
    In a lot of places, if the Chief took command at every fire, or even every multiple-alarm fire, he or she wouldn't be able to get anything else done. There are a lot more pressing things for the Fire Chief to deal with than playing IC.
    Last edited by sfd1992; 05-15-2013 at 06:10 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sfd1992 View Post
    In a lot of places, if the Chief took command at every fire, or even every multiple-alarm fire, he or she wouldn't be able to get anything else done. There are a lot more pressing things for the Fire Chief to deal with than playing IC.
    no one is saying every fire - in my opinion something as large and unsettling as a terrorist attack , I feel the Chief should step up, And let the men know he has their back.
    Last edited by slackjawedyokel; 05-15-2013 at 11:50 PM.
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    I would opine that in large departments like Boston, it's necessary to have an administrator at the top. There are people at that level managing multi-million dollar budgets.

    For those that recall the Peter Principal - the core concept is that some people may be great in a given position, but when called upon to make the next step, are in over their heads. Ol' Joe may have been a great AC or DC, but may stink when it comes to the tasks involved in managing a large organization.

    We don't have any indication of how he's performing as a manager.

    That said - a symbolic appearance would probably have gone a long way. Even if he did "assume command," odds are his subordinates would have ended up running the incident anyhow.

    It would be interesting to know what the feelings were about him before the marathon incident...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bones42 View Post

    That being said....having been a COD (although much much smaller department)...I can't imagine creating a policy where the COD would not want to take charge.....isn't that the purpose of being Chief?
    Not here. I am speaking from a large department standpoint. As departments get bigger, batallions are created easing the workload on BC's. If a working fire comes in (I am speaking of my Dept respectively) the first due BC assumes command. He will retain that command through the whole incident. As the incident grows, he has the option of assigning other BC's as division Alpha, Bravo, and so-on. If theCOD were to come in and take command, he would essentially screw up that order.

    Our COD's mostly show up and observe, then leave when the fun is over. It's pretty seamless and the IC is free to run the fire the way he sees fit. Been doing it this way forever, so the story that was put up is not a new trend coming your way, it can be used at the discretion of the individual department.
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    Quote Originally Posted by LaFireEducator View Post

    Deputy Chiefs Say 'No Confidence' in Boston Chief Steve Abraira


    Dave Wedge
    Boston Herald
    Created: May 15, 2013

    All 13 deputy chiefs say Chief Steve Abraira never assumed command during the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon.



    May 15--All 13 deputy chiefs in the Boston Fire Department have declared they have "no confidence" in Chief Steve Abraira, firing off an angry letter to the mayor saying the fire boss "failed" by balking at taking command at the deadly Boston Marathon bombing scene.

    The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Herald, blasts Abraira -- the department's highest-ranking uniformed officer -- as a "ghost fire chief" who "never announced his arrival on the radio or assumed any command authority" at the April 15 terror attack on Boylston Streeet.

    "At a time when the City of Boston needed every first responder to take decisive action, Chief Abraira failed to get involved in operational decision-making or show any leadership," the letter, signed by each deputy chief, reads. "You can unequivocally consider this letter a vote of no confidence in Chief Abraira."

    Dot Joyce, spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Tuesday night said she had not seen the letter nor spoken to the mayor about it.

    Abraira, who was handpicked for the $160,000-a-year job, said there was "no reason" for him to step in and assume command.

    "Quite honestly, I thought everything was going very well with the deputies at the scene," Abraira said last night. "If you can strengthen command or if things are going badly then yes. But in this environment, it doesn't make sense, because you have senior deputies and they do this every day. That's what I want them to do. I want to let them do what they do every day."

    Abraira, the former Dallas fire chief, said he is in "administration" and does not believe he should take command at incidents, except in extreme circumstances. Abraira, the city's first chief hired from outside the department, changed a long-standing policy last year that required the highest-ranking chief to take command at incident scenes. Abraira said he made the change to comply with "national standards."

    "If it's necessary for me to assume command of our every day operation at incidents, then something's wrong," he said.

    In addition to criticizing his handling of the marathon attack, the letter blasts Abraira for failing to take command at an electrical explosion and blackout in the Back Bay and a six-alarm blaze in East Boston. At the Eastie fire, the letter states that Abraira climbed onto a roof of an adjacent building "so that he could take a photograph of himself with the burning building in the background" for his "scrapbook."

    "We feel that if something is not done to address this situation, that eventually there will be a price to pay," the letter states. "We do not want that price to be the life of a citizen of Boston or a member of the Boston Fire Dept."


    Of the criticism, Abraira said: "People don't like change. I understand that resistance. But it's really a shame. All I can do is do the best I can for the citizens here and the firefighters. It's unfortunate we don't see eye to eye. But I am the chief of the department."

    Copyright 2013 - Boston Herald


    I fully understand where the Chief is coming from as more and more, the Fire Chief is functioning as an administrator and less and less as a fireground commander.
    So besides relishing once again in any negative press about career FDs, what is your point in posting this article. Because apparently your volly FD can't do a damn thing without your chief or another one of your paid guy officers being on scene to take command.
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    Regardless of whether he takes command or not, if he's the Chief of Department, he is responsible. I suspect the deputies do not see him taking any responsibility for any shortcomings and of course ready to shine when things are rosey. Most officers I know below the rank of COD would rather have the COD be the liaison between the working personnel and the politicians, commissioners, and news and steer clear of operations.

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    In my twenty years on the job our chief engineer has never assumed command of any fire or incident. They will make appearances, such as at the scene of a line-death or civilian fire death(s) or other significant incidents. With the exception of our current chief engineer, all were promoted thru the ranks of this department and had commanded many fires thru out their careers.
    Past practice has always been that they let the line-officers/chiefs handle their incident. Our ICS system is now written to have car 1 respond in under specific circumstances and work as a field chief, due to the significant cuts we have taken.

    Having said that, that is how we do business. That in no way is a reflection of anywhere or any place else. Boston is able to handle their business with no problem or questions. If their line chiefs have a criticism or concern, they should be listened to. Something la educator is not entitled to.
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    I'm not familiar with the politics or previous policies in Boston FD. They have a Fire Commissioner. I assume he is the administrative guy. I believe the COD is a uniformed chief. It's a big enough department that he probably has assistants on his staff to assist him in daily duties. The bombing was a high profile mass casualty incident. If the COD wasn't going to take command for this, then they might as well leave the position unfilled. It's a leadership position and he did not lead. Taking command would not be an insult to the deputies or mean that they could not handle the incident. I don't blame the deputies for being disappointed.
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    Quote Originally Posted by captnjak View Post
    I'm not familiar with the politics or previous policies in Boston FD. They have a Fire Commissioner. I assume he is the administrative guy. I believe the COD is a uniformed chief. It's a big enough department that he probably has assistants on his staff to assist him in daily duties. The bombing was a high profile mass casualty incident. If the COD wasn't going to take command for this, then they might as well leave the position unfilled. It's a leadership position and he did not lead. Taking command would not be an insult to the deputies or mean that they could not handle the incident. I don't blame the deputies for being disappointed.
    I agree -even if he only took command symbolic type command, he is the CHIEF -let the men know he is there.
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    If any urban size department doesn't have qualified members in the Deputy or Assistant Chiefs positions to be the Command in any large operation, then the COD needs to remove them from that position and get someone who can be in command. It is not necessary for the COD assume command of any incident.


    The COD may show up at larger incidents, but it their Deputy who is running the incident. Remember, there are other sub command staff members, which are doing their job and reporting back to the Command Post, where the member who is running the incident is located.


    I have seen back in the old days for me the COD arrive on seconds and take over the incident. Most of the time it kept on running smooth as before he arrive, other times it well to hell.
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    I'd be very curious to hear what the firefighters in Dallas thought of him. Dallas is a pretty good size city with twice the population and 3 times the land mass of Boston. Was there a great sigh of relief in Dallas when he announced he was leaving, disappontment or a great meh, whatever?

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    While it appears most of us agree that the COD need not take command at most incidents, a few points have been brought out that seem to speak to this particular type of administrative organization. As noted by Captnjak, the COD at BFD is a uniformed position, he has an elected politician in the Fire Commissioner. Taking command does not mean taking over every duty on the scene, it means that when someone asks who's in charge your the person they look to. The mayor, the commissioner and the COD are touting how "progressive FD's" are run, but fail to note that at an incident like this, a progressive COD would ensure there was a unified commend and would take direct part in it. No one is implying he be operations section chief (using NIMS for progressive people). Taking command doesn't mean directing tactical operations when the incident gets to this level, it means ensuring your people have the resources to do their jobs and aren't subject to the high up politics that sadly seem to rear up far too soon. From what it sounds like, the DC's believe Mumbles hired a deputy commissioner, not a Fire Chief.

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    Here is a story from today's Boston Globe that will put the matter into perspective...

    So Rod Fraser, the Boston fire commissioner, thinks his 13 deputy chiefs are unprofessional dinosaurs.

    Nice.

    It was so refreshing to watch the Boston police brass — Commissioner Ed Davis, Chief Dan Linskey and Superintendent Bill Evans — go out of their way to praise the men and women of the police department who performed so heroically after the Patriots Day bombings.

    But you didn’t see Fraser or his MIA chief Steve Abraira jumping at cameras and microphones to praise their department, the firefighters who, with their police and EMS brothers and sisters, performed herculean acts of bravery.

    That’s because they don’t want us to think Boston firefighters are worth much. That would make it harder for them to dismantle the department, to change the practices that these so-called dinosaurs have perfected so that Boston has a ridiculously low death rate from fire.

    Boston firefighters are far from perfect, and the department does need to change in some areas, but the way the brass is going about it is wrong.


    I never saw Commissioner Fraser and Chief Abraira stand before the cameras and praise the firefighters of Engine 7 and Tower Ladder 17, who dove into a sea of wounded people and saved lives. I never heard them praise Sean O’Brien, who knelt over the body of Martin Richard, knowing it was the boy who was so kind to his daughter in their third-grade class. O’Brien put aside his emotion and helped friends and strangers alike that day.

    I never heard them praise Tommy Campbell from Tower Ladder 17, who carried a little boy who lost his leg to safety, whispering soothing words into the frightened boy’s ear while he and an EMS paramedic put a tourniquet on the boy’s leg to save his life.

    I never heard them praise Mike Materia, a great firefighter from Ladder 15 who ran down Boylston Street and swept up Roseann Sdoia from the sidewalk and saved her life.

    I did hear Fraser call his deputies “dinosaurs” at a City Council hearing Thursday. He’s mad at them because they had the temerity to write a letter and say they have no confidence in Abraira. Fraser said the deputies were unprofessional because they leaked the letter.

    Fraser’s beef with the letter is not with his deputies but with his boss, Mayor Tom Menino, whose office received the letter but didn’t tell either the commissioner or the chief about it. The deputies who gave the letter to me on Tuesday said no one from City Hall would respond to their concerns. The deputies sent copies of the letter to Menino at City Hall, the Parkman House, and his home in Hyde Park last week.

    But Fraser wouldn’t back down, saying the deputies should have met with him first. I told Fraser the deputies went over his head because he won’t listen to their complaints about Abraira, that he won’t fire Abraira because that would mean admitting he made a mistake in hiring him in the first place.

    Abraira, meanwhile, admitted to me that he has not visited Sean O’Brien or Tommy Campbell or Mike Materia or any of the firefighters who performed so heroically on that horrible day.

    “I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to interject myself into that situation,” the chief said.

    Why not just visit the firehouses and shake their hands?

    “That’s a shortcoming on my part,” he acknowledged.

    I told the chief that firefighters don’t think he respects them. For example, firefighters resent that he never attends retirement dinners. His predecessors routinely did.

    “I’ve never been invited,” he said. “How am I supposed to know when and where they are?”

    Um, actually there are no invitations. They just put fliers up on the bulletin board at Fire HQ on Southampton Street. There’s one there right now advertising a time at Florian Hall this Saturday for a bunch of firefighters retiring out of the Broadway firehouse down in the South End. Abraira walks past this bulletin board every day.

    The reason the brass of the Boston Fire Department didn’t emulate the brass of the Boston Police Department and praise their members to the hilt is that they and their masters at City Hall believe doing so might make it harder for them to gut the department.

    Because that’s what Fraser and Abraira, with Menino’s blessing, want to do.

    So they will chalk up the letter from the city’s 13 deputy chiefs, expressing no confidence in Abraira, as just the bleats of narrow-minded, parochial jakes who are digging in their heels against any changes to their ranks or working conditions.

    Boston firefighters are far from perfect, and the department does need to change in some areas, but the way the brass is going about it is wrong. Punishing firefighters because they do their job too well seems a pretty stupid management philosophy.

    So what happens the next time there’s a disaster?

    Well, presumably, you won’t see Chief Abraira. He was MIA the day of the bombings. That’s one of the reasons the deputies are so furious. Abraira said he didn’t assume command on the street after the bombings because everything was under control.

    Is he serious? Firefighters and police officers were still searching for other potential explosive devices when Abraira was on Boylston Street.

    If Boston firefighters followed Abraira’s policy of prioritizing firefighter safety over that of the public, then they should have run away when the bombs went off.

    But because they are firefighters, they ran toward the danger, because that’s what real firefighters do.

    Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
    By the way.. the Police Commissioner also came from out of town... about 26 miles out of town... he was the Chief of the Lowell (MA) Police Department.
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    Would you want the highest ranking person in your department to be the IC if they had held no other rank in fire suppression?
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    I know nothing of Boston Fire, or the politics surrounding that excellent department. But it speaks volumes when the core group of line officers, to a person, express the same thoughts about Commissioner Fraser and Chief Abraira.
    But like Memphis says; no, I don't want my COD to assume command of a major incident. Not be cause he is incapable, inexperienced or couldn't do the job, but because he wasn't there at the beginning. If an incident has evolved to something that large, I want the street commanders that have do this day in and day out and have been following the incident from the beginning. Why screw up an intact, seamless chain of comment?
    Do they need to be there-yes.
    Do they need to be visible-yes.
    Do they need to be kept in the loop-yes. Not only for their sake, but who better to to run interference on the Mayor and pushy council members, or any other politician or self important individual.
    Last edited by SPFDRum; 05-17-2013 at 11:49 PM.
    My posts reflect my views and opinions, not the organization I work for or my IAFF local. Some of which they may not agree. I.A.C.O.J. member
    "I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them."
    George Mason
    Co-author of the Second Amendment
    during Virginia's Convention to Ratify the Constitution, 1788
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