The assistant fire chief who was widely praised for his leadership as incident commander at the Pentagon following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has been named the department's head, Arlington County announced yesterday.

Assistant Chief James Schwartz, a 20-year veteran of the Fire Department, has been appointed fire chief, effective June 28. Schwartz, who serves as acting director of Arlington's office of emergency management, will succeed Edward P. Plaugher, who will retire next month.

Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee said he selected Schwartz from among four internal candidates after a three-month selection process.

"He has demonstrated the ability to step up to the plate as he did on 9/11 and instill confidence in those around him," Carlee said. "When things get bad, this is the person we want to head the department."

Schwartz, 46, said that he was proud to have been chosen to succeed Plaugher and that among his first goals would be revamping the county's overwhelmed emergency medical services agency.

"Our main goal is to continue to deliver quality service while we continue to focus on preparedness for large-scale incidents," Schwartz said. "But we know the citizens of the county will define how well we do by the service we provide every day."

Schwartz, a 1993 graduate of the University of Maryland's fire science administration program, joined the Arlington County Fire Department in 1984. He has served as an instructor at the Arlington Fire Academy and, in 1998, was named assistant chief of operations.

He was serving in that role on Sept. 11, 2001, when Arlington firefighters arrived at the Pentagon less than four minutes after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the building, killing 184 people.

An independent federal report later praised the Fire Department's handling of the tragedy, calling it "successful by any measure." Since then, Schwartz has lectured widely on emergency management.

Schwartz was endorsed by the 500-member Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association.

"We're ecstatic about the selection," said the union's president, Capt. Mike Staples, adding that Schwartz has a reputation as a "good decision-maker," even though there has been some grumbling from residents that Schwartz is not always responsive to their e-mails and concerns.

"I think that's a reflection of the fact that sometimes you have to tell people things they may not necessarily want to hear," Staples said.

Schwartz said that in his last year as the director of emergency management he often delegated such tasks to staff. "I've learned a lot about what citizens can contribute to preparedness," he said.

Schwartz, an Alexandria resident, is married to Susan MacKay and has two children, Elizabeth, 10 and Holden, 7.

Incoming chief James Schwartz.