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Longtime Boston deputy among 3 finalists for fire commissioner

Three finalists have emerged in the search for a new Boston fire commissioner, including Joseph E. Finn, a long-serving Boston deputy chief hailed for his quick action during a Back Bay blaze in March that killed two firefighters.

The other finalists are Michael H. Huss, outgoing public safety director in Pittsburgh, and Michael S. Lombardo, a former fire commissioner in Buffalo.

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The FACETS management consulting group of Phoenix, hired by the city in February to conduct the national search, presented the names to Mayor Martin J. Walsh this week.

Finn, 53, of Quincy, said he was interviewed by the FACETS team June 7 and is refraining from commenting about the search until a commissioner is hired.

“I’m honored and humbled that I am one of the finalists,’’ Finn said.

Huss, 46, and Lombardo, 56, said they would be proud to serve Boston, one of the largest and oldest fire departments in the country.

“It’s a wonderful city with a great Fire Department,’’ Huss said.

Said Lombardo: “Frankly, it would be a privilege to work there.”

Walsh is expected to make a decision soon about a successor to Roderick J. Fraser Jr., who stepped down in January after seven years.

The local union, which represents rank and file firefighters and the command staff, has said Walsh should hire from within the department.

In a letter dated June 10, Kevin Roche, who led the search for the consulting firm, said a panel picked the finalists after a thorough review, and he called the candidates highly qualified to lead the force of more than 1,400 uniformed members.

“It is the unanimous recommendation of the panel that the three most highly qualified candidates based on the needs of the Boston Fire Department and the experience and qualifications of the candidates are . . . Joseph Finn, Michael Huss, and Michael Lombardo,’’ Roche said in the letter to the city’s human resources director.

FACETS emphasized that it made its recommendations after meeting with the City Council, Boston residents, and city management. A large number of candidates applied after ads appeared on the websites of groups such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International City/County Management Association, the firm said.

Roche told the Globe last month that 29 people applied. Only three were civilians. The search team reviewed resumes, conducted phone interviews, and had in-person interviews with several applicants, Roche said in the letter.

Finn, a member of the Boston Fire Department since October 1984, rose through the ranks to become deputy fire chief in 2001. He is in charge of all fire ground operations, hazardous materials, and technical rescue in Division One, which includes five fire districts, 17 engine companies, and a marine unit. Division One includes Allston-Brighton, Charlestown, East Boston, the Back Bay, and South Boston.

Earlier, the former Marine was deputy chief of personnel, overseeing recruitment, contract enforcement, legal affairs, and discipline, according to his resume. He helped implement the department budget and served on a mayoral task force that studied integrating Boston Emergency Medical Services into the Fire Department.

After a team led by former police commissioner Kathleen O’Toole cited management lapses and a resistance to reform in the Fire Department, Finn said he was charged with implementing most of the commission’s recommendations, particularly those addressing concerns about disparate treatment of firefighters.

“I initiated and trained the first team for the investigators to look at harassment and discrimination allegations,’’ Finn wrote on his resume. “I trained firefighters to become mediators in order to achieve conflict resolution among staff.”

Finn was also chief negotiator for the fire union during recent contract talks with the city.

Many people in the department had speculated that he would emerge as a top candidate for the commissioner’s job.

The search team said Finn stood out for being able to work with firefighters to achieve progress and described him as a fair, progressive, and capable leader. The consultants also noted that Finn presented specific plans on improving diversity on the force. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Northeastern University in 2008, graduating magna cum laude.

“Chief Finn distinguished himself in the interview process with his intimate knowledge of the Boston Fire Department, its history, and the culture of its membership,’’ the review panel wrote.

The search team also noted Finn’s role as incident commander in the March fire on Beacon Street. Lieutenant Edward Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy died in the blaze. “His actions in command of the incident are credited with preventing additional firefighter injury and death,’’ the panel wrote.

Huss, who began his career as a Pittsburgh firefighter in 1988, served as Pittsburgh’s fire chief from March 2005 through September 2007. He has a master’s degree in public management from Carnegie Mellon University. He is looking for a job after new Mayor William Peduto began installing his own administrators, including a public safety director.

Huss is working through the mayoral transition. Peduto has not yet assigned him a new role, according to the mayor’s press secretary.

As public safety director, Huss oversaw a budget of about $80 million and about 2,000 Pittsburgh firefighters, police officers, building inspectors, paramedics, and other workers, officials said. By contrast, Boston’s Fire Department has a nearly $190 million budget and more than 1,400 uniformed employees.

Huss arrived in Pittsburgh as a young fire chief from outside the department. He is credited with managing the agency through tough economic times, including the shuttering of six fire stations, while developing a system to improve response times and bringing best practices to the department.

“We had our minor differences in certain areas, but . . . he has been a tremendous asset to this city since he has been here,’’ said Joseph King, president of the city’s fire union.

Huss said firefighters gave him a fair shot at the job and did not rush to judgment, allowing him the opportunity “to prove myself.”

“I’m very proud of what we did,’’ Huss said. “We established a working relationship within the Fire Department.”

The FACETS search team highlighted Huss’s experience in budgeting, his cooperative problem solving in a unionized Fire Department, and his approach to community involvement by his force.

Lombardo, who joined the Buffalo Fire Department in 1983, retired from the force in 2010.

He had stints as the department’s fire chief and commissioner, and oversaw a force of about 700 firefighters, according to Fire Lieutenant Marc Suggs, treasurer of the fire union.

“He was great,’’ Suggs said. “He was well liked and well admired by all his co-workers.”

At the end of 2009, Lombardo was forced to resign as fire commissioner by the mayor, according to the Buffalo News, which said concerns had been raised regarding overtime in the department. He became a battalion chief.

Since leaving the force, Lombardo has served as a training and mentoring consultant for the Fire Department in Ocean City, Md.

The search team said Lombardo has extensive experience with public sector budgeting and succeeded in securing grants for department equipment and programs.

The consultants also highlighted Lombardo’s skills as a chief executive of a metropolitan fire department.

The search team noted his experience in improving diversity, knowledge of fire department operations in an established city, and approach to customer service and community involvement.

Lombardo helped the Buffalo Fire Department recover after the loss of two firefighters in a 2009 fire.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Meghan.Irons@Globe.com or on Twitter @MeghanIrons.
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