City Hall Contests Appoinment of N.H. District Chief

July 18--MANCHESTER -- Fire Chief James Burkush said he will ask aldermen for the go-ahead to fill a high-ranking position in the fire department, after city hall did not rubber stamp his request to replace a retiring district chief.

Burkush said he gave financial and organizational justifications for filling the command position once Robert Corbeil retires from his job of district fire chief on Aug. 1. But he said Human Resources Director Jane Gile did not act on his request.

"By not approving it, I guess she disapproved," said Burkush, who said he will take the matter to the five-alderman Human Resources Committee when it meets next.

Just two weeks ago, aldermen lifted a hiring freeze and said department heads could manage their hires without going through the mayor. But aldermen also approved the reclassification of one of six district chiefs, dropping the pay grade for the head of the Fire Prevention Bureau from district chief to fire marshal.

The move saved the city about $62,000 annually.

Gatsas said he'd like to see Corbeil's job remain vacant while elected officials consider restructuring the fire department.

"Look at the number of captains, lieutenants and district chiefs," Gatsas said. "You'll see its an incredibly high ratio of supervisors to actual firefighters."

He pointed to the police department, which he said has held off making promotions to sergeant and lieutenant in order to put more officers on the street.

Of the approximately 201 uniformed positions in the fire department, 134 are line firefighters, another three are fire investigators.

The supervisory ranks are: five district chiefs, 12 captains, and 44 lieutenants. Chief Burkush has two deputy chiefs directly below him.

Burkush said the titles are deceiving because captains and lieutenants, who staff fire stations and equipment, work alongside line firefighters.

"These people are not standing outside. They're running in and fighting fires and performing emergency medical services," he said.

District chiefs, which he equates to captains in the police department, have overall command of a fire scene and can handle emergency management situations and training, Burkush said.

District chiefs top out in pay at $110,000 a year in salary. Firefighters top out at about $70,000 a year, Burkush said.

Burkush said he has restructured his department. There are now 46 firefighters on duty at any one time, compared to 51 in 2008. Over the past 10 years, the number of district chiefs fell from nine to five, he said.

The city has also pared the number of pumper trucks and ladders.

"Every city department has gone through so many cuts," Burkush said, "that we all understand we have to do things efficiently."

mhayward@unionleader.com

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