Joseph E. Finn on Monday took the oath of office as the 42d commissioner of the Boston Fire Department by declaring the agency won’t “run from our past” and following through on a promise to reorganize its command structure.
“We’ve had our issues and I intend to address them,” said Finn after being sworn in by Mayor Martin J. Walsh during a ceremony at the Engine 20 firehouse in Dorchester.
Walsh named Finn, a three-decade department veteran, as commissioner and chief earlier this month.
Addressing an audience in the same firehouse where his father, Paul, once worked, Finn said 95 to 98 percent of Boston’s firefighters report to work every day and do an “outstanding, remarkable job under difficult and challenging circumstances.”
“Those are the men and women I will be working hard for, fighting for,” Finn said. The remaining 2 to 5 percent, he said, would be dealt with through the appropriate channels.
Finn launched his revamp of the department by announcing a series of changes in the management structure, the establishment of a new unit to address firefighter safety and wellness, and the creation of a new position aimed at increasing the ranks of minorities.
Finn said he drew upon the recommendations of two earlier reports that urged major improvements in operations, management, and morale to create two command posts outside of the union: a chief of operations for field services and a chief of operations for support services.
Walsh appointed Finn to the post earlier this month after a four-month search to replace outgoing commissioner Roderick J. Fraser Jr., whose seven years in office were marked by frequent clashes with the firefighters union.
The union had sought a uniformed commissioner from within its ranks rather than another outsider, who, it said, did not have an understanding of running a large, complex fire department like Boston’s. Finn was one of 13 deputies who campaigned for the ouster of the last outsider hired for a top job in the department — fire chief Steve E. Abraira — in a power struggle last year.
On Monday, Finn named John Hasson as chief of operations for field services, putting him in charge of the city’s firehouses. Hasson most recently served as the department’s acting commissioner.
He tapped Deputy Chief Gerard T. Fontana to be chief of operations for support services, putting him in charge of functions like emergency dispatch services, training, personnel, and fire prevention. Fontana has “extensive background” in homeland security matters, representing the city in its interactions with state and local homeland security officials, Finn said.
“His keen understanding of our internal and external operations will be a major asset to me going forward,” Finn said.
Having nonunion officials on his team also “brings some independence to the thinking of how we need to run the department,” Finn said.
He also said he is in the process of identifying two civilian deputy commissioners: one to handle administration and finance and the other to take care of the department’s labor and legal affairs.
Finn is creating the new post of diversity officer to report directly to him to increase the number of minority firefighters. Minorities make up 30 percent of firefighters, said Steve MacDonald, a department spokesman.
The diversity officer would be charged with recruiting minority veterans and working with public schools and minority social organizations to develop mentoring programs for high school-age students, Finn said. He noted that veterans seeking to become firefighters are given preference on entrance exams.
“We need to educate the minority community on how they obtain veterans’ preference if they’re looking to become Boston firefighters,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of minority veterans that we just haven’t found yet. They’re out there. We got to get to them.’’
Finn also announced plans to appoint a deputy chief to lead a new division devoted to firefighter safety, health, and wellness. He said that deputy chief would be tasked with reducing the number of on-the-job injuries, improving physical fitness among firefighters, and addressing problems like cancer and sudden cardiac arrests, the leading cause of firefighter deaths.
Richard Paris, president of firefighters union Local 718, said he welcomed Finn’s ideas.
“This commissioner cares about the safety of the firefighters and the citizens of the city of Boston,” he said.
Finn gained public prominence amid tragedy in March, as he led the response to a fire at a Back Bay apartment building that killed two firefighters, Michael R. Kennedy and Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr.
During his remarks, Finn called the fire the “most difficult, tragic day of my career.”
Kennedy’s mother, Kathy Crosby-Bell, attended the ceremony.
She described Finn as “the man for the job.”
“The morale has just risen exponentially with his appointment,” Crosby-Bell said. “I want to show my support.”
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