Boston Mayor Michelle Wu on Thursday named Paul F. Burkeas the city’s new fire commissioner.
A 32-year-veteran of the department, Burke was most recently the deputy chief overseeing its fleet and facilities, a role that included budgeting, purchasing, maintaining, and renovating its vehicles and buildings. He previously managed technical rescues and emergency responses throughout the city.
He succeeds John Dempsey as the top official in the department, which dates back to 1678. Dempsey, who took charge at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, is leaving shortly after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65 for Massachusetts firefighters.
Burke’s first day as commissioner is Friday. He will oversee a department of more than 1,500 firefighters and an annual budget of nearly $280 million.
“It is a tremendous honor to have the opportunity to lead our Fire Department,” Burke, a married father of three who grew up in Roslindale, said in a statement. “I want to thank Mayor Wu for the opportunity to serve the residents of Boston in this role. I look forward to working with all of our firefighters to deliver this critical service to our city.”
Burke inherits a department criticized in recent years for its lack of racial and gender diversity. The department remains overwhelmingly white and male, and its latest academy class included one woman out of 90 recruits. The class included 22 recruits of color.
The department has never had a commissioner who is not a white man, a trend that continues with Burke. According to a recent Globe analysis of the city workforce, more than 94 percent of the fire department’s 1,600 workers are male and 72 percent are white. In 2019, the department’s first Black chief of operations and first female district chief were named.
Some advocates had recently pushed for an outsider to lead the department, which is notoriously resistant to change and dominated by a politically strong labor union that has clashed with Boston mayors, including Wu, and past fire commissioners alike.
But on Thursday, the firefighters’ union president, Sam Dillon, congratulated Burke on his appointment, saying that he was glad the new commissioner had a deep understanding of the department.
The union “looks forward to working in collaboration with him and the Boston Fire Department,” he said.
Despite calls for an outsider, Wu went with a career Boston firefighter, calling Burke a trusted leader in the department who has served “in many roles leading our fire response.”
“I’m proud to welcome this Roslindale native into leadership as a partner to build a healthy environment for our firefighters and a diverse, connected workforce serving our communities in moments of need,” Wu said in a statement.
Burke’s appointment came one day after the Boston School Committee chose Mary Skipper to be the next superintendent of the long-troubled school district. Wu, who was elected and took office in November, has yet to name a police commissioner. The search and vetting process for that post is well underway and an announcement is expected in the coming weeks.