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Newton interviews candidates to become city’s next fire chief

The City of Newton is interviewing candidates to replace Fire Department Chief Gino Lucchetti, who will be retiring after a 45-year career. As Mayor Ruthanne Fuller finishes distributing recruitment brochures and begins the selection process, Newton fire employees reflect on Chief Lucchetti’s impact on the department.

The city released a 10-page recruitment brochure for the position, describing the city, department, and details about what the city is looking for in a new fire chief.

Fuller said in an e-mail the city is looking for “a good person, a caring, empathetic and strong leader who has a high level of experience, credibility and integrity.”

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“A person who has a deep knowledge of fire suppression and prevention, emergency operations and firefighter wellness as well as the ability to inspire trust among residents in 13 diverse villages and earn the respect and confidence of uniformed and civilian employers of the Newton Fire Department,” Fuller said.

Lucchetti was selected as Newton’s chief in 2019 after over 30 years working in the department, according to Mark Roche, a retired Newton fire captain who now serves as the fire department’s historian. He said Lucchetti made the office of the chief more approachable for employees of the department.

“He has opened the lines of communication to the chief’s office like we never had before,” Roche said. “Previously, everyone kind of avoided going to the chief’s office unless absolutely possible, because chiefs were generally feared by the members.”

In her weekly e-mail update March 10, Fuller said the brochure would be sent to organizations including the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, and the International EMS & Firefighters Pride Alliance, among others. Applications for the new chief closed April 4.

The city enlisted Plymouth-based MMA Consulting Group to assist in the selection process. Fuller wrote in the e-mail the company “has decades of experience helping with leadership selection for city, towns and other public agencies, with a focus on public safety and emergency response.”

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The selection process will include an “assessment center” — where candidates will participate in exercises and assignments — and interviews with city employees and officials, Newton residents, and fire department staff.

Marc Rizza, president of the Newton Fire Union Local 863, said he thinks the next chief should be a product of internal selection within the Newton Fire Department.

“I do think we have internal candidates that are fully qualified,” Rizza said in a phone interview. “I think it’s important to hire within because they know the city. Typically, everyone that gets on here is at one point from Newton.”

Among other things, Rizza said an internal candidate holds greater geographical knowledge of Newton.

Mark Roche said external candidates may hold strong credentials on paper, but internal candidates hold a better understanding of Newton fire personnel.

“For someone to be an outsider and commit to this, it’s a huge learning curve,” Roche said in a phone interview. “So I’m hoping that we remain with an in-house fire chief for the future.”

Chief Lucchetti was selected internally to serve as the next chief in 2019.

Newton Director of Human Resources Michelle Pizzi O’Brien said the city will not judge internal and external candidates differently.

Rizza, who served with Lucchetti for 25 years, spoke to his management abilities.

“He’s a great leader,” Rizza said. “I’ll even go as far as 100 percent of the guys pretty much like him. He kind of led by example. He came up through the ranks, he was like that when he was a captain [and] Lieutenant. He was well respected by his peers.”

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Roche said Lucchetti took a calm approach to leadership. “When things go bad, he generally kept his cool and was able to professionally manage whatever situation arose,” he said.

Roche commended Lucchetti’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as the chief’s greatest accomplishment.

“Chief Luchetti was chief during one of the most difficult times of any fire chief in modern history due to the pandemic,” Roche said. “He made sure that we had the proper equipment, the proper training and enabled us to remain safe and keep the public safe at the same time. To me, that is probably his greatest accomplishment being able to get us through those terrible pandemic years.”

Lucchetti declined to be interviewed for this story.

Fuller said in order to fill Lucchetti’s boots, the next leader of Newton’s fire department would work to upgrade department technology and invest in ongoing equipment needs, among other things. She also said the next chief will work directly with Fuller in “evaluating hiring practices and policies” for the department.

“Our next Chief will be tasked with assisting me in diversifying the NFD, evaluating hiring practices and policies, enhancing staff training and professional development and creating an inclusive and welcoming culture for all employees,” Fuller wrote in the e-mail.

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Rizza said under a new fire chief he would like to see the completion of station renovations and the continuation of training programs.

“We’re not a volunteer department, but we’re a class one department, and I’d like to keep it that way,” Rizza said. “Continue the training that’s going on in the department and keeping the citizens in Newton safe.”

Charles Moore and Justin Tang can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.