Boston Fire Commissioner John “Jack” Dempsey will accept mandatory retirement at the end of the month, he said Sunday, leaving a third major city agency without permanent leadership as Mayor Michelle Wu continues to build her administration.
Wu is already searching for a new police commissioner and a replacement for Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius, who announced plans in February to step down at the end of the academic year.
On Sunday, Wu said Dempsey had “provided steadfast leadership” for the city and the fire department.
“I’m grateful for his guidance and partnership for our new administration, and we thank him for his more than 35 years of service as a firefighter,” Wu said in a statement.
For Dempsey, who reached the mandatory retirement age for Massachusetts firefighters when he turned 65 last week, it marks the end of a decades-long career with the department, including the last two years as commissioner.
“I served under three mayors and I’m grateful to each of them — Mayor [Martin] Walsh, Mayor [Kim] Janey, and Mayor Wu — for all the support they gave me and to allow me to manage the fire department,” Dempsey told the Globe in a phone interview Sunday.
City officials said the search for a new fire chief is ongoing and the interview process is underway. Dempsey said he offered some recommendations to Wu for possible replacements, but he declined to share any with the Globe.
“I talked to the mayor and gave her some names that I felt would be the best fit,” he said. “I’m sure she will find a capable person.”
Dempsey’s planned retirement, first reported by GBH radio, initially became public on Friday as Wu was delivering remarks at a memorial service in the Back Bay for the 50th anniversary of the devastating Hotel Vendome fire. During her speech, Wu said she was “grateful to Commissioner Jack Dempsey, now in his final few days in this role.”
“Thank you so much for all that you have done to steer our city and our department through such difficult years,” she said.
If Wu let the news slip too soon, Dempsey didn’t mind. On Sunday, he said he’d had no plans to make a public announcement about his departure.
“I didn’t look at making a big deal of it,” he said. “When I came on this job like every other firefighter, we know age 65 is the end. ... I had it in my mind that this was the time to go, so I’m ready to go.”
Former mayor and current US Labor Secretary Martin Walsh appointed Dempsey as fire commissioner in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. He previously served as chief of operations, the highest-ranking uniformed firefighter in charge of overseeing all divisions within the department, according to a biography on the fire department’s website.
Dempsey said he felt “blessed” to rise to the level of commissioner, even as the opportunity came at the outset of a long period of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. With the coronavirus looming, Dempsey said he felt an even greater responsibility to protect members of the department.
“Not a lot of past incidents could prepare you for that, so I’m thankful I was able to get through that and not lose anybody [to COVID-19],” he said. “My goal was to not lose anybody through my whole career. You’re there to protect the people that work for you, and at the end of the day I want to make sure everyone gets home safe.”
Globe correspondent Matt Yan contributed to this report.