Providence still searching for next fire chief

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said Tuesday the city is still searching for a new fire chief, more than 30 months since the last one retired.

Pare, who is considered the acting chief, said the city would like to have a new chief in place “as soon as practical,” but declined to offer a timeline.

“It is important that we select the right person to lead the department,” Pare told Eyewitness News. “However long it takes, we continue to search for a candidate that has the qualifications and skills to be fire chief for the Providence Fire Department. We are committed to that goal.”

The fire department has been in the headlines in recent days after a large house fire on Bowdoin Street left one person dead, but Pare said he’s confident it “runs effectively regardless of the fire chief position being vacant or filled.”

Clarence Cunha, the city’s last permanent fire chief, retired in July 2015 after reaching the city’s mandatory retirement age of 60. His retirement 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 on overtime costs.

The changes prompted mass retirements in the department that ultimately 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 in 2016. In December, the city agreed to settle multiple lawsuits filed by the union challenging overtime payments for $5.9 million.

Pare said in September more than 30 people had applied to be chief and “a few” had been offered the job, but none of them wound up taking charge of the department. At the time, Pare said there were finalists for the job.

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