40-Year Veteran Chosen to Lead the Fire Dept.

NY Times - December 22, 2009


Salvatore J. Cassano, a 40-year veteran of the New York Fire Department who has held every one of its ranks, was named fire commissioner on Monday.

The decision by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to promote a member of the department was a departure from many previous appointments by Mr. Bloomberg and other mayors. They have often chosen outsiders, many of them lawyers, focusing more on managerial skills than on experience or familiarity with the department.

Mr. Cassano, 64, who will assume the top post on Jan. 1, has run the day-to-day operations of the department since 2006 as chief of department, the highest uniformed rank. He was among three finalists in a nationwide search to replace Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, a veteran city official who was appointed by Mr. Bloomberg eight years ago.

Some had viewed the appointment of a new commissioner as a chance for Mr. Bloomberg to select a minority candidate or a woman in recognition of a federal judge's ruling this year that the department had discriminated against black and Hispanic applicants in entrance examinations from 1999 to 2002. The department, which is overwhelmingly white, is trying to diversify its personnel.

"Well, No. 1, I'm not trying to make a statement," Mr. Bloomberg said when asked at a news conference at City Hall about the issue of diversity. "What I'm trying to do is to get the best people for New York City. And I do think that if you cast your net wide enough, you will also get diversity, but you will get the best."

The other finalists were former department officials who are black: Philip E. Parr and Mylan L. Denerstein. Mr. Parr is a retired department battalion chief who was involved in the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Ms. Denerstein, who was the department's deputy commissioner for legal affairs from 2003 to 2006, is now the state's executive deputy attorney general for social justice.

Mr. Cassano became a New York City firefighter in 1969 and spent several years at engine companies in Lower Manhattan. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1977 and worked at Ladder 113 in Brooklyn, where he also served after his promotion to captain in 1984.

He continued to rise through the ranks, becoming battalion chief in 1987, deputy chief in 1993, deputy assistant chief in 1999 and assistant chief in 2001. He has worked in assignments throughout the city, including as the on-duty citywide tour commander. He has been cited five times for bravery during his career.

After the Sept. 11 attack, in which 343 firefighters died, Mr. Cassano helped rebuild the department and helped lead the cleanup of ground zero.

"He was involved in the decontamination at ground zero, he dealt with the widows, he dealt with the unions, he was dealing with everybody," said Nick Visconti, the chief representative of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association in New York from 2001 to 2007. "He had a role in everything that went on down there and how the department rebuilt."

Mr. Cassano said at the news conference that one of his biggest challenges would be dealing with the mayor's office on issues related to the budget crisis.

Before the news conference began, Mr. Bloomberg noted Mr. Cassano's roots. Motioning to city officials standing to his right in the Blue Room, the mayor said: "Another Staten Islander. I don't want to hear anything more that we don't appoint people from Staten Island."