Mayor Thomas M. Menino defended Boston’s fire chief Wednesday amid serious allegations from 13 deputy chiefs that Steve E. Abraira's response to the Marathon bombings was inadequate and that he avoids responsibility at fire scenes in general.
“As the mayor of the city of Boston, he’ll have a future while I’m here, 236 days,” said Menino, who will not be seeking reelection.
Asked if he felt that Abraira responded appropriately in the aftermath of the bombings on Boylston Street on April 15, they mayor said, “As far as I understand, yes.”
Speaking to reporters before an event in the Back Bay Fens, Menino also questioned the timing of a letter the deputies sent to him on April 26 and that surfaced in the press this week, outlining their concerns about Abraira.
“I think we came out of this Marathon professionally; I think everybody did a good job, and to have a letter like that surface a month later, I wonder,” Menino said. “If it was an issue at the time, why wasn’t it brought to our attention immediately?”
One of the deputies who signed the letter but did not want his name used in this report for fear of retaliation from City Hall, said they waited to raise the issue out of respect for the victims.
The deputy chiefs wrote in the letter that Abraira failed to assume command responsibility after the bombings. They said that he later told the department that he felt the command staff had things under control as firefighters acted in a support role with law enforcement.
The deputies called that reasoning “indefensible” and also wrote that Abraira has reversed decades of department protocol by changing the operating procedure to relegate himself to spectator status at fire scenes, rather than taking command as his predecessors did.
He was appointed fire chief in November 2011 and is the first chief not hired from within the department ranks.
Abraira defended his actions Tuesday, saying he was comfortable with what he observed from the command staff on arrival at the bombing scene.
He also said “nationally accepted practice” holds that chiefs take command only “if there’s something going wrong or if you can strengthen the command position or if it’s overwhelming for the incident commander.”
Menino alluded to the question of national standards on Wednesday.
“They [the deputies] made all kinds of accusations in the letter,” the mayor said. “I want to make sure that we followed all the procedures of the national standards.”
The National Fire Protection Association, a Quincy-based group that issues fire safety standards, did not respond to inquiries about whether chiefs should always take command at scenes. Two national organizations representing fire chiefs and firefighters also did not return messages.
Larry Langford, a spokesman for the Chicago Fire Department, said that a high-ranking chief who arrives at a fire in that city has the option to take over, though it is not required that he do so.
“If he thinks the lower ranking folks ‘have it,’ then he can simply let them continue to run it,” Langford said in an e-mail.
Watertown Fire Chief Mario A. Orangio, past president of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, said protocol varies among departments, but the basic structure that they follow does not require chiefs to automatically take control.
“It depends on the incident,” Orangio said.