Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday that he is close to naming a fire chief to replace Carl E. McDonald, a 36-year veteran who is retiring today after a year as acting chief.
"The search is going fine. We'll have a permanent chief soon," O'Malley said, even as union officials were criticizing the yearlong search to replace Herman Williams Jr., who retired in February last year after running the Fire Department for nine years.
O'Malley, who has conducted two nationwide searches and interviewed people inside and outside the department, said he is taking time to "find the right person for the job."
Richard G. Schluderberg, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Association Local 734, said morale has deteriorated within the ranks, but work is getting done. He compared the situation to that of a student with a substitute teacher or a football team without a coach.
"There is no motivation to improve or look for long-term solutions," Schluderberg said.
Stephan G. Fugate, president of Baltimore Fire Officers Association Local 964, said the search has taken too long and that O'Malley is "trying to destroy the department."
"This has gone way beyond neglect," Fugate said. "The whole situation inside the department is deplorable."
Many inside the department thought McDonald would have the best chance of becoming fire chief, especially after his handling of the train derailment and fire inside the Howard Street tunnel in July.
But McDonald withdrew his name from consideration several weeks after the fire. He has declined to comment on why he decided not to pursue the job.
Last night, O'Malley praised McDonald's service: "He guided the department through some really difficult times. He gave this department the leadership it needed during his time as acting chief," O'Malley said.
Only months into his job as acting chief, McDonald found himself directing the department's response to the CSX train derailment and fire inside the Howard Street Tunnel that lasted several days. He has called the train fire the "longest challenge of my career."
McDonald joined the department in 1965 and slowly rose in the ranks. He was promoted to captain in 1973, battalion chief in 1977 and battalion commander about 13 years later, and was tapped to be assistant chief of operations in 1999.
That year, he helped direct the battle to contain a blaze in a 30- story downtown apartment complex. Firefighters were credited with saving the lives of dozens of trapped residents.
During a brief interview last night, McDonald, 61, said he felt he had done a good job as acting chief, and added, "I'm going to enjoy retirement."
Assistant Chief of Administration Michael E. Dalton, a 31-year veteran, will take over as acting chief until O'Malley names a replacement.
About 10 people have been interviewed for the position by high-ranking city officials, and four have been referred for consideration to O'Malley, the mayor said.
Chief William J. Goodwin, director of training for the department's fire academy, is among the leading contenders, according to city officials and City Council members.
O'Malley said last night that Goodwin is a "good and strong candidate."