Test Scores for Fire Chief Create Uncertainty
By MICHELLE O'DONNELL
On Friday, the city released the results of a civil service exam for the job of chief of the New York Fire Department, creating a stir at the department's Metrotech headquarters in Brooklyn, according to senior fire officials.
The highest score, 92, was earned by Arthur J. Parrinello, a deputy chief. The second-highest score, 90, was earned by Frank P. Cruthers, who actually happens to be the chief of department. To understand how Chief Cruthers, 58, would have to take the exam at all - and 17 months after his appointment, at that - requires a quick baptism in the mysterious ways of New York civil service law and the Fire Department.
Years ago, to limit political patronage and ensure that the most qualified candidate led the firefighters, the job of chief of department was designated a civil service position awarded by exam, according to Vincent J. Dunn, a retired deputy chief. The mayor appoints the fire commissioner, who in turn appoints some of the chiefs below the chief of department.
No one in the department seemed to know when, exactly, the chief of department became a civil service position, but a union official said it was at least 60 years ago. Mr. Dunn said he believed the chief's job, which entails overseeing more than 14,000 uniformed and civilian employees, was the highest-ranking civil service position in the country, maybe even the world. A spokesman for the federal Office of Personnel Management said that he could not confirm either possibility.
Still, it is the highest civil service position in New York City, said Warner Johnston, a spokesman for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which gave the exam in February to 14 would-be department chiefs and Chief Cruthers. This being New York, the job is subject to some caveats: the chief of department must receive tenure from the commissioner within a certain period - until recently, a year - or lose the job. The commissioner is allowed to select a department chief from among the top three scorers.
In Chief Cruthers's case, Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta appointed him in September 2002 after Chief Daniel Nigro retired without tenure, just shy of 365 days in the position, a department official said.
Because the list of those who had taken a previous exam for the department's top job had expired - lists are the lifeblood of the civil service, no matter the rank - the vacancy was filled by Chief Cruthers, but because he was not appointed from a list, the tenure clock was never started.
It was the second time around for Chief Cruthers, whom the department did not make available for comment for this article. He served 11 months, from 1996 to 1997, under Commissioners Howard Safir and Thomas Von Essen.
Department insiders say few chiefs of department have earned tenure, because their job security would allow them to create a fiefdom that could challenge the authority of the commissioner.
"No one's going to tenure a chief,'' a senior department official said, adding that from a commissioner's point of view, "it makes it hard to manage a department.''
Still, Capt. Peter L. Gorman, the president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said there had to be "some continuity of leadership in the department.''
Peter Ganci, who was chief of department when he was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, was one of few chiefs in recent memory to have gotten tenure.
Last fall, the fire officers association, which represents most fire officers, including the chief of department, filed contempt proceedings against the city, demanding that a new chief's test be offered. A settlement was reached, which included holding the exam in February and extending the tenure period to two years from one.
So, just what does coming in second mean for No. 1?
While Chief Cruthers's score was more than respectable, his odds dipped slightly as two deputy chiefs, Joseph J. Callan and Peter Hayden, tied for third place with scores of 86, lengthening the list of contenders from three to four. A department spokesman, Francis X. Gribbon, said Commissioner Scoppetta would make his choice from the list within 30 days.
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05-16-2004, 01:20 AM #1
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Test Scores for FDNY Fire Chief Create Uncertainty
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