Baltimore City

As search for fire chief begins, some urge a look within

As Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake begins her nationwide search for a new fire chief, some city and fire union officials are urging her to focus on qualified candidates from within the department.

The city has hired Florida-based Gans, Gans & Associates help find candidates, just as it has done for a number of other leadership positions in Baltimore in recent years, said Travis Tazelaar, a mayoral spokesman.


The process is in its initial stages, he said, and the mayor's only goal is to bring in candidates who are talented, strong leaders. Departing Chief James S. Clack's last day is Friday.

"The mayor wants to do a national search, but she also wants to make it very clear that that does not mean that people within the Fire Department aren't going to be taken very seriously as well," Tazelaar said. "Anyone within the Fire Department is going to be able to apply."


Some city officials think internal candidates should be given priority.

"We have good people within that organization who are capable of being the next fire chief, and I think we should look within to inspire people within," said City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

"When you go out and find someone from the outside, folks who are working there think, 'Why should I be motivated to perform above and beyond what is required of me if there is no opportunity for me to ever become chief?' " Young added.

While cities, large companies and even local school systems across the country routinely conduct nationwide searches for top-level positions, the Baltimore Fire Department has a more insular record.

Clack, who announced his departure last month, was hired in 2008 by Rawlings-Blake's predecessor, Sheila Dixon, as the first chief ever selected from outside the department.

He was criticized for it along the way, as the department faced budget cuts, company closures and a battle over pensions, with some in the department labeling him an outsider with little loyalty to city firefighters.

Still, when Clack announced his departure last month, he said he hoped Rawlings-Blake would choose someone from the inside — namely the current interim chief, Jeffrey Segal.

Clack said it was "too bad" that Dixon "didn't feel like there was enough talent within the agency to promote from within," but that the department has made strides in recent years to hire talented people and bolster the continuing education of longtime members.


Segal, who rose through the department's ranks and holds a master's degree in the science of management from the Johns Hopkins University, said he and several other members of the department will likely apply for the position.

He said he does not have any better shot at the position than others as the interim chief, and considers himself "just like everyone else."

"I would like to see the mayor select the best candidate," he said.

Tazelaar said the city has no short list of candidates yet.

Rick Hoffman, president of the local firefighters' union, said he would prefer an in-house candidate who would help restore department morale after several tough years of company cuts, no significant raises and renegotiations over pensions that firefighters don't favor.

"What I think we need in the search is someone who is going to take this fire department and move it forward and get the firemen and the officers to absolutely think that this is not only a day job, but the best job in the world," Hoffman said.


Mike Campbell, president of the fire officers' union, declined to say whether he prefers an inside or outside candidate, although he has previously criticized Clack's selection from outside the department.

Campbell said he's more interested now in finding a permanent leadership for the department, which has seen other top officials depart in recent weeks — including Assistant Chief of Administration Raymond C. O'Brocki III — and has had to shuffle other leaders around, including Segal.

"Let's try to get this thing done, so whoever it is can choose their command staff and we can get some continuity," Campbell said.

Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chair of the council's public safety committee, said he wants someone from inside the department.

"What we have to start doing in the city of Baltimore is recognizing and honing our local, homegrown talent," he said.

Scott unsuccessfully made the same argument during the search for a new police commissioner last year, before Rawlings-Blake hired Anthony W. Batts from California.


Tazelaar said the city has not settled on a price to pay Gans, Gans & Associates, nor has it settled on a schedule for the fire chief search.