Capt. Christopher Leary Named New Fire Chief
Leary has been a member of the Melrose Fire Department for 27 years and will take over for retiring Chief John O'Brien.
Leary has been a member of the department for 27 years is currently a shift commander and the chief's personnel officer. Promoted from firefighter to lieutenant in 2000, he became a captain in 2003, is a charter member of the state's Hazardous Materials Team and works as a nurse at Union Hospital in Lynn, after earning a nursing degree from Northern Essex Community College.
The mayor will send Leary's appointment to the Board of Aldermen for approval, with it tentatively scheduled to go before the board for its May 7 meeting.
Dolan said that Leary has a "quiet strength" that reminds him of former Chief Kevin Walsh.
"When he speaks it is thoughtful, it is strong, it is with knowledge, and it's never more words than you need to get the job done, which I think is the sign of an outstanding leader," he said. "I feel total confidence with John leaving—and I can't say enough good things about John—but this department's going to go continuously onward and upward."
Leary said he was "excited and honored" to take on the chief's helmet, adding that the Fire Department has "come a long way over the last eight years," with increased staffing, three stations opening, new apparatus and gear and a new radio system.
The department is coming up on the one-year anniversary of the revived ambulance service, Leary noted, and is currently in the process of transitioning to an advanced life support (ALS) model, which helps fund the increased staffing.
"I look forward to continuing where Chief O'Brien left off moving the department forward," he said. "With the support of my family, the city and the officers and firefighters of the Melrose Fire Department, my goal is to maintain the services and professionalism that we currently provide while consistently looking for ways to improve."
Leary also said he plans to revamp policies and procedures where necessary, and wants to pursue computerizing the department's dispatch and reporting. Some fires require reports to the state, he said, but the department's journal is still a paper system that has been in place "since (O'Brien's) grandfather came on," with stacks of paper upstairs at the department's headquarters.
"We want to get that computerized so when the guy at the desk hits a button, it generates a run number, it generates a time, and half the report's already done," he said. "We have the software—we just need the time and manpower to put it together."
Two Former Chiefs Assist In Search Process
Dolan said that the city didn't have look far for a new chief because, "as they say in baseball, we have a long bench. We have a lot of talent in the Fire Department. On any given day, John can leave the department and feel totally comfortable, as I can, that any one of his captains can handle a couple of days of operations."
To conduct the internal search for a new chief, the department brought in former fire chiefs from Holyoke and Brockton who interviewed the candidates and ultimately decided on Leary.
Dolan added that part of the process involved the candidates presenting a written report about where they'd like to see the Fire Department head in the next few years, as part of the job "is articulating the vision for the department," and said that both candidates were "exceptional."
Leary said the questions he faced during his interview were management orientated, such as role playing situations to gauge how he would react to dealing with the Melrose Firefighters Local 1617 union, with firefighter incidents and his management style.
"It was good, it was an interesting learning experience," he said.
O'Brien echoed Dolan's remarks about his being comfortable with the staff handling incidents and added that other fire departments routinely inquire about Melrose's operations.
"We're leaving the department in fantastic shape. We're at the top of the game right now. I think we're known statewide," he said. "Once a week we get a call from another fire department, 'how does Melrose do it?' That's what the common refrain is. From maintenance, staffing, EMS, it doesn't matter what it is—we have a good problem-solving model."
O'Brien also pointed out the several firefighters in attendance at Monday's press conference, including Capt. Ed Collina, who runs the Fire Prevention Office and was the other finalist for the chief's position; Lt. Paul Collina, the department's EMS director; and Firefighter Bob Driscoll, secretary-treasurer for the union, among several others.
"If you look around at the firefighters and everyone, the buy-in is what gets it," he said. "I like to say it's three legs of the stool and it couldn't be done alone."
Dolan said he views the relationship with the union as a "real partnership" and that the union had a seat at the table during the search process.
"The union's job is to defend their contract and defend their men," he said. "They do a very fair and fine job of doing that ... it doesn’t mean we don’t disagree, that’s part of the job."
Plans to Hire a Deputy Chief as Department's Role Expands
Dolan said it's also his intention to add a deputy chief position to the department, as appointed by the chief, which will require negotiations with the union.
O'Brien said that on top of the new ambulance service, the Fire Department will take over car seat installation certification from the Police Department, and will take over traffic light signal maintenance from the Department of Public Works.
Dolan said that with the Fire Department handling various non-emergency roles, in addition to responding to fires, medical emergencies and handling fire prevention, the city needs to ensure services "in such a big operation" are handled appropriately, along with the day-to-day staff issues the chief will handle. Ensuring that, he said, means having a proper management structure in place.
"We have to ensure what we've been to accomplish can be sustainable regardless of who’s in the room," he said. "That's when you know it's successful ... The model is more important than the people. That's what we're trying to do here."