CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- The city of Charleston is one step closer to having a new fire chief. After starting with a pool of more than 100 applicants, city leaders met with the top four finalists Tuesday. During a breakfast meeting, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg says he is confident in the qualifications of the final four candidates.
All four have Masters degrees, decades of experience in the fire service, and all have experience as fire chiefs. Paul Berardi was a finalist for the job when the position was open back in 2012 and he recently retired from the role of Fire Chief in the Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department. Allan Cain is currently Fire Chief and Acting Planning Director in Cary, North Carolina. Daniel Curia is the current Fire Chief in Durham, North Carolina. John Tippett has been the Interim Chief in the city of Charleston since April 2017.
One point all candidates mentioned was morale within the department. Berardi and Cain both discussed how they would build morale through improved trust and communication.
Berardi says, “People are going to want to know that they’re being heard. I think people will understand that things don’t happen overnight, but they at least want to be listened to and see someone take action to correct those issues.”
Cain says, “I plan to do a lot of listening and a lot of note taking. Those plans will be made with the organization as a whole not because that’s what me, as a fire chief, says we are going to do. That’s not how I function as a fire chief.”
Curia highlighted the compensation problem, which has an impact on overall firefighter morale and mentioned some ways to combat it.
He says, “Is it dollars in pockets? Is it the lack of affordable housing? If that’s the issue then it’s not solely a raise in firefighter start pay that’s going to combat that issue. It’s the fire department partnering with other departments in the city to improve affordable housing that can be earmarked for police and fire.”
Interim Chief John Tippett also touched on pay. He says a new pay plan will go into effect February 10th, which is part of an effort to boost morale.
Tippett says, “I did embark on a series of listening sessions after i was appointed Interim Chief. Using the report and the input we got, taking on activities that we believe are improving morale like finally getting a pay plan pushed through and getting some improvement in other areas that the firefighters were looking for.”
When asked about their main objectives if they get the job, they all said they would want to start by hearing about wants and needs from the firefighters, then tackle the Fire Department Strategic Plan already in place.
Cain says, “If you read the Charleston Fire Department Strategic Plan you will see that’s a goal they’ve already established with several objectives there. As long as it’s a part of the strategic plan then that will be a part of Allan Cain’s plan.”
Paul Berardi broke it down into 30, 60, and 90 days.
He says, “In the 60 day portion, do we buy into the plan? And then the 90 day plan is the implementation, to begin to tick off those high priority issues.”
Curia says community involvement is big on his agenda.
He says, “Are we setting the Charleston Fire Department up so when there are medical emergencies, we have a silent workforce in the community? Providing CPR, providing automatic external defibrillation to personnel prior to CFD’s arrival on scene.”
Tippett says his focus will include employee retention.
He says, “They love the occupation, but they’re always looking for a better deal for where they work. So it’s incumbent on us to create a compensation plan and work environment where it’s going to be a second guess for them to go to the next department.”
After the interviews by City Council Tuesday morning, the candidates went to meet Charleston firefighters. Wednesday, they will go before interview panels made up of city leaders and community members. No word yep on when a decision is expected to be made, but the choice will be made by Mayor Tecklenburg and approved by council.