NY Post - December 22, 2009by SALLY GOLDENBERG and PHILIP MESSING
A lifelong firefighter who was cited for bravery five times over his 40-year FDNY career was tapped yesterday to head the department.
Salavatore Cassano, currently the highest-ranking uniformed officer in the FDNY, will succeed outgoing Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta to lead the 16,000-member force, Mayor Bloomberg announced yesterday.
Throughout his long career with the FDNY, Cassano has held virtually every position in the department -- from his start as a probie in 1969 to his 2006 promotion to the No. 2 spot of chief of department.
"I've stood with Sal as we waited to walk into the church where there were funerals for firefighters killed on the job," Bloomberg said.
"I've watched Sal when he dealt with the parents, the brothers, sisters, spouses, children of firefighters who paid the ultimate price, and I've come to respect him for that."
The firefighters and EMT unions also offered praise for Cassano.
But there was grumbling that Cassano, 64, had lobbied so hard for the job that he may not stand up to Bloomberg when the mayor seeks more cost savings from the department.
"In difficult times, the mayor and I will discuss our budget. I will tell him what I think, and I will tell him why I think it," Cassano said. "But the bottom line is we have to live through our physical constraints and work it out. When the mayor hears it from me, he'll know that I was there, I've done it and I've done it for 40 years."
The FDNY, with its $3.2 billion budget, currently has a hiring freeze. Cassano's appointment begins Jan. 1.
He had stiff competition from other contenders, including Mylan Denerstein, a top lawyer with the state Attorney General's Office and former legal counsel to the FDNY.
Denerstein would have made history as the city's first female FDNY commissioner.
Also in the contention was Phillip Parr, a former FDNY battalion chief, who would have been the second African-American to head the overwhelmingly Caucasian department.
"I'm not trying to make a statement. What I'm trying to do is to get the best people for New York City," Bloomberg said, noting that fire deaths are at a record low.
He lauded Cassano for spearheading a better inspection system in the wake of the deadly August 2007 fire at the former Deutsche Bank building and seeking ways to streamline the sometimes-troubled emergency-dispatch system.
Before that, Cassano was chief of operations and was integral in rebuilding the department after its loss of 343 members on 9/11.
Cassano, an Army combat veteran of the Vietnam War, will be paid $205,180 a year, sources said, a slight increase over his current salary of $200,096. He'll be eligible for a $172,000 yearly pension when he retires.
Additional reporting by Chuck Bennett