This afternoon the Public Safety Director will promote a senior firefighter to the position of Fire Chief, and will announce the creation of a new senior firefighter position to serve as Assistant Fire Chief
In both positions, we need great firefighters, two people with the leadership skills and vision to deal with the complexities of modern firefighting. We need a chief and an assistant chief who can maximize the skills of all firefighters, and who recognize that this department belongs to all of the people of St. Louis. Most important, we need firefighters with the education, training, experience, and reputation necessary to make this department the best in the country.
The Fire Chief is a civil service job. That means the job is filled based on merit.
City ordinances require the fire chief to come from the ranks of the Fire Department, to be a battalion chief or deputy chief, and to have held rank for a certain amount of time. Eligible firefighters who applied went through a competitive process to determine merit.
After going through the testing process, six senior firefighters, each with decades of experience in City fire service, made the final list in order of how they did in the testing process.
Although the final decision on promotion belongs to the Public Safety director, I have received plenty of advice on the subject.
Some people urged me to appoint the chief based on race-both white and black. Still others urged me to skip over St. Louis firefighters, ask the Board of Aldermen to change the law, and conduct a national search for a new fire chief.
Of those options, I rejected the first immediately. Appointing a fire chief - or a police chief or a streets director or a parks director - because of his or her race is wrong, is illegal, and is not in the best interests of people who rely on the Fire Department.
I gave more thought to the second option, to conduct a national search for a Fire Chief. Such a search might have identified a good candidate - though, national searches sometimes have the disadvantage of importing someone else’s problems to St. Louis.
In the end, I urged the public safety director to complete the testing process defined by Charter, ordinance, and regulation and appoint the best firefighter to lead the department.
I also asked him to recreate the historic position of Assistant fire Chief, which has not existed in almost 30 years. I did this because I have come to believe that the direction of the Fire Department right now requires the attention of two great firefighters. The assistant chief will be a civil service position chosen by the fire chief.
I want to congratulate all of the firefighters who competed for the position of Fire Chief. It is a strong group. I am confident that one of them will make a great assistant Chief.