William J. Goodwin Jr., a 26-year veteran of the Baltimore Fire Department whose father and grandfather were also city firefighters, will be appointed chief today by Mayor Martin O'Malley.
Goodwin would take over a department that has lacked a permanent leader for more than a year and has seen a decline in morale, the elimination of several fire stations and complaints about the pace of minority promotions and recruitment.
The department, which has 41 stations and about 1,700 employees, also faces new challenges in dealing with potential terrorist attacks while responding to more than 70,000 reported fires and 115,000 calls for emergency medical care a year.
O'Malley said Goodwin was the best candidate for the job.
"He combines the leadership abilities and technical knowledge of fighting fires in this modern age," said O'Malley, who conducted two nationwide searches for a chief. "I think he will be a very good leader."
Goodwin, 46, said yesterday that he hoped to quickly boost the department's morale, revamp recruitment, promote more minorities and set up educational programs at the city's community college for firefighters and high school students who might be interested in joining the department.
His overarching goal, he said, is to make the fire service a central part of neighborhood life again.
"When I was a kid, it was the pillar of the community," Goodwin said. "Firefighters stood for more than just response. The community knew the Fire Department better."
Sheri J. Luck, president of the Vulcan Blazers, which represents about 400 black city firefighters, said she is "glad that Mayor O'Malley made a decision. It was long overdue."
Luck said she hopes Goodwin follows through on his promises to promote minorities into command positions. Of 334 commanders, about 71 are minorities and three are women. The department has 1,319 firefighters and paramedics, about 32 percent of whom are minorities.
City Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young, whose committee will vote on Goodwin's appointment in coming weeks, said he was "disturbed" by the appointment but declined to say why. "I have concerns," Young said. "But I need to keep an open mind."
City Council President Sheila Dixon said Goodwin is qualified but that she plans to ask "critical and crucial" questions at hearings.
The department's two unions, which represent commanders and firefighters, have long backed Goodwin as a candidate.
Stephan G. Fugate, president of the fire officers union and a critic of O'Malley, said the mayor deserves "a tremendous amount of credit for having the guts to do the right thing."
Richard G. Schluderberg, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Association Local 734, said he is pleased "that it's a member from within our ranks" who "deserved a chance to bring us back to a level we're accustomed to."
Goodwin was born and raised in Baltimore, graduated from Archbishop Curley High School in 1973 and joined the department two years later.
"All I ever wanted to do was be a firefighter," Goodwin said. "My dad was my hero."
Goodwin's father died of a heart attack in 1981 at age 54, just after using an exercise bike.
Goodwin was promoted to lieutenant in 1979, captain in 1983, battalion chief in 1990 and director of training in 1999. In the latter job, he educated new firefighters, improved fire-fighting techniques and searched for better equipment.
In 2000, he earned a bachelor's degree in fire science from the University of Maryland University College. He expects to receive a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in May.
A resident of Middle River, he lived in the city most of his life and will move back.
In July, he played a critical role in battling the fire that engulfed a derailed chemical train in a CSX tunnel, officials said. He led the first assault into the north end of the tunnel, and when firefighters found their oxygen tanks inadequate, he quickly tracked down more sophisticated respirators.
"I never envisioned myself as fire chief," said Goodwin, whose salary would be $112,000. "It looked like it was out of reach."
On Feb. 1 last year, Goodwin sent O'Malley his application for the post because, he said, "I thought I had something to offer. I thought I would have insight."