Interim District Fire Chief Thomas Tippett said yesterday that he will announce a "major reorganization" of the city's troubled fire department this week, a reshuffling that he said will likely include changes in more than a half-dozen senior posts.
The changes will take effect Jan. 23.
Tippett, appointed Nov. 30 by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), is acting with the mayor's "complete confidence," said Erik Christian, deputy mayor for public safety. A search for a permanent successor to Donald Edwards, who retired as chief under pressure because of concerns over his management and a residency issue, is ongoing.
Since his appointment, Tippett, a former union president, has accelerated acquisition of ladder truck and pumper vehicles, undertaken a pilot program to have paramedics respond automatically with fire crews and equipped firefighters with tracking devices under a 1997 safety recommendation, Christian said.
"The mayor is allowing Chief Tippett to make the changes necessary to get the department moving," Christian said. Asked whether Tippett's swift management overhaul gave him an inside track for the permanent chief's position, Christian replied: "The search committee has convened twice, and they will be looking for the best candidate in a nationwide search, which would include resumes from Chief Tippett and others in the department should they apply."
Tippett, reached at home yesterday, confirmed that there would be changes but declined to discuss details.
"In fairness to all the people involved, I've got to interview and talk to everyone," Tippett said. "There's nothing to tell you just yet."
The reorganization, initially reported by Fox-affiliate WTTG-TV (Channel 5), was criticized by the Progressive Firefighters Association. President Nathan Queen said all holdover assistant and deputy chiefs have been asked to retire, including all five of the department's senior African Americans.
"This removes any reasonable internal black candidate for the permanent position of chief," Queen said. "Mayor Williams, I believe, has the desire, ability, cooperative spirit and vision to do wonderful things for my home town, but in a few short years, this will prove not to be one of them."
Tippett disputed the group's allegations, calling them "inaccurate."