Providence has been without a permanent fire chief for more than two years

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – More than two dozen individuals have applied to lead the Providence Fire Department over the last two years, but the city still hasn’t found its next chief.

Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare confirmed this week the city has offered the job to “a few” candidates, but none of them have been hired. He also said there are finalists for the position, but declined to offer a clear timeline for naming a new chief.

“As I’ve given a public date in the past and it didn’t come to fruition, I cannot pinpoint a start date at this time,” Pare wrote in an email. “Working to find the right fire chief expeditiously.”

Pare said approximately 30 people have formally applied for the job. The city paid a Maryland-based headhunting firm $25,000 to identify potential candidates for the job in February 2016.

Providence has been without a permanent head of the fire department since July 2015, when Clarence Cunha retired after reaching the city’s mandatory retirement age of 60.

Cunha’s retirement also came shortly after Mayor Jorge Elorza announced plans to restructure the fire department from four platoons to three in an attempt to save the money. The change failed spectacularly, prompting mass retirements in the department that led to an increase in the amount the city paid in callback overtime expenses. Elorza agreed to move the department back to four platoons in exchange for a reduction in minimum manning in a new five-year union contract last year.

The city and the firefighters’ union are still negotiating the amount workers are owed in overtime expenses from the shift change. The city’s internal auditor has said the city’s bill could exceed $10 million, but the law department claims the amount will be significantly lower.

Paul Doughty, the president of the union, said Tuesday the move back to four platoons has improved morale in the department. He also said two longtime firefighters – Thomas Cassin and Michael Bates – have taken over the “day-to-day heavy lifting” in the department, leading to a “marked change in efficiency.”

“We still need a chief, but they’ve made it better,” Doughty said.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan