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Boston Deputy Chiefs declare “no confidence” in first outsider to be Chief of Department

That's not how we do it here.

On May 14 Dave Wedge of the Boston Herald broke this story:

All 13 Thirteen of 14 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.”

Deputy chiefs declare 'no confidence’ in Boston fire chief

Boston is third metro chief fire executive appointment for Chief Steve Abraira

The November 2011 announcement of Chief Abraria's appointment in Boston provides background:

Chief Abraira served the Miami, Florida Fire-Rescue Department for over 26 years, retiring as an Assistant Fire Chief in 2000 when he was appointed Fire Chief of the City of Dallas, Texas Fire-Rescue Department. Chief Abraira served the City of Dallas for over 5 years before retiring and returning to Florida.

In 2007, Abraira came out of retirement to assume his current position of Fire Chief in Palm Bay, Florida. He holds a Bachelor degree in Public Administration from Barry University and graduates on December 17th, 2011 with a dual Masters degree in Human Resources Management and Management and Leadership from Webster University. Abraira also holds the Chief Fire Officer designation from the Commission on Professional Credentialing and is a member of the Institution of Fire Engineers.

The fire service is truly an Abraira family calling. Chief Abraira’s son is currently a Fire Lieutenant with the City of Miami Fire-Rescue Department, making him a third-generation Miami firefighter.

New Chief of Department Appointed

Last year, Dave Wedge posted a story revealing that the first Latino Chief of Department does not speak Spanish.

The Boston Fire Department’s new second in command was hailed as the city’s first Latino chief when he was hired last year, but the veteran firefighter doesn’t speak Spanish, the Herald has learned.

The surprising news comes at a time when the city is pushing to hike the number of bilingual Latino firefighters — even as they have assigned several to largely non-Spanish-speaking areas.

Celebrated Latino hire not bilingual. BFD chief: It ‘never came up’ .  This story picked up national attention: Steve Abraira, Latino Fire Department Chief, Singled Out For Inability To Speak Spanish .

Changed "Dallas Fire Department" to "Dallas Fire Rescue"

When Chief Abraira arrived in Dallas, he was surprised how the firefighter-staffed ambulances were handled. The units were identified with a three-digit number and "dispatched like taxi cabs." Their radio identifications were changed to "Rescue" and new transport units were painted red.

Flicker picture from So Cal Metro

The most controversial act was changing the department's name.  Dallas Morning News reporter Tanya Eiserer covered the reaction when the city council moved to formally change the department's name in 2005:

The name Dallas Fire Department carries with it the proud tradition of a 133-year history. But a proposed charter amendment that would legally change the department's name to Dallas Fire-Rescue has some firefighters fuming.

"We've protected the city under the banner of the Dallas Fire Department for more than 130 years," said Mike Buehler, president of the Dallas Firefighters Association. "There is no reason to change now. Major departments – Chicago, New York, Phoenix – none of them are changing their names."

The name Dallas Fire-Rescue came into use during Steve Abraira's tenure as fire chief. He had been an assistant chief of Miami Fire-Rescue before his arrival in Dallas in 2000.

Shortly after assuming command, the former chief decided – without consulting rank-and-file firefighters – to change the department's name, Mr. Buehler said. The former chief argued that the new moniker better reflected the department's overall mission, which includes responding to emergency medical calls as well as house fires.

Mr. Abraira ordered that departmental-issue clothing bear the new moniker. The department's Web site became dallas firerescue.com. The name was placed on all rescue vehicles and on newer fire engines and trucks, but all the department's engines, trucks and rescues still carry the traditional DFD logo.

Not wanting to provoke the former chief's ire, Mr. Buehler said, the firefighters association didn't publicly oppose the name change.

"This was one the chief was adamant about," he said. "We weren't going to pick that battle with him when we had so many other things to focus on."

Dallas Firefighters Distraught Over Department's Proposed Name Change  (no link)

At that time, 58% of the emergency incidents were medical calls.

When a municipality reaches outside for the fire chief, they are looking for a change agent or a different approach to how the department operates.

Tomorrow we will look at the issue of when the Chief of Department should take command of an incident.

Tip of the helmet to Brad Newbury

Mike "FossilMedic" Ward

Comments - Add Yours

  • Lee Hart Jr.

    I do not understand how changing the department name improves service. I also do not understand how changing the department name changes what services are provided. I also do not understand how changing the department name allows the ambulances to, not be dispatched like taxi cabs. To me changing the department name does not change the services that are provided. The department still goes to fires and medical calls, so why the name change……Just my thought…..

  • http://everydayemstips.com Greg Friese

    Mike, I am looking forward to your next post. Especially on the notion that the highest ranking responder should be the incident commander vs. the most qualified responder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1088829873 Skip Kirkwood

    I don’t think the distinction between “highest ranking” and “most qualified” makes much sense. If the chief or other officer running the incident is qualified (and he/she ought to be, or they shouldn’t be there), and the scene is being run well, and that chief isn’t needed elsewhere, why change command at all? A higher-ranking officer on a well-run scene can observe, evaluate, monitor, coach, and let the junior officer run the incident. Otherwise, JOs will never get any meaningful command experience.

    On the other hand, the senior officer should be seen doing something useful, not just “hanging out.”

  • BH

    This was inevitable the day a Chief from outside the BFD was hired.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.wallis.5 Jeff Wallis

    “That’s not how we do it here,” and “we’ve always done it this (or that) way” are the greatest obstacles to any organization. Despite the fact that the Chief didn’t “take command” the scene appeared to be well organized and well handled. Perhaps the Chief is doing his job and providing the necessary training and equipment to those working for him and the City of Boston to provide exceptional service. Even though the bombing was a very tragic event for Boston, and the entire country, it was a true win for the emergency services of that great city. Chief Abraira should be proud of the performance of his department. The Deputy Chief’s should be greatful that they obviously posses the knowledge, skill, and ability to manage such a large scene. We must always look for ways to improve the services we provide. Those improvements will undoubtedly require doing some things differently.