Fire Department appoints new commissioner

Der­rick Saw­yer

The Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment gained a new com­mis­sion­er on June 14, one day fol­low­ing the re­tire­ment of the of­ten-con­tro­ver­sial Lloyd Ay­ers, who served 40 years as a fire­fight­er, in­clud­ing the last dec­ade as com­mis­sion­er. May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter named Der­rick Saw­yer as Ay­ers’ suc­cessor last month.

“Der­rick Saw­yer is a 29-year vet­er­an of the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment, a man who has served in mul­tiple po­s­i­tions over the years and has carved out an ex­pert­ise in com­munity risk re­duc­tion, pre­ven­tion and fire safety meas­ures,” Nut­ter said. “Der­rick Saw­yer is the right per­son at the right time for this crit­ic­ally im­port­ant po­s­i­tion, and I’m honored to make this ap­point­ment.”

Saw­yer most re­cently served as deputy com­mis­sion­er in the de­part­ment. He gradu­ated from Com­munity Col­lege of Phil­adelphia with an as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree in fire sci­ence and from Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity with a bach­el­or’s de­gree in pub­lic safety ad­min­is­tra­tion. He is pur­su­ing a mas­ter’s in home­land se­cur­ity at St. Joseph’s Uni­versity.

“I am humbled and honored to be ap­poin­ted as the next fire com­mis­sion­er of this great city,” Saw­yer said. “I am ex­cited and look­ing for­ward to con­tinu­ing my ser­vice to this great city’s fine cit­izens.”

Dur­ing a June 5 news con­fer­ence, Nut­ter praised Ay­ers’ years of ser­vice to the cit­izens of Phil­adelphia, call­ing him a pre-em­in­ent lead­er in the fire de­part­ment.

“Lloyd Ay­ers has giv­en his en­tire work­ing life to both his na­tion and his ho­met­own. After gradu­at­ing from Dob­bins High School and serving four years in the U.S. Coast Guard, he joined the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment in 1974. As com­mis­sion­er, Lloyd Ay­ers has set an ex­ample of the sens­it­ive, re­spect­ful lead­er­ship to which the de­part­ment and the pub­lic is en­titled,” Nut­ter said.

Rank-and-file mem­bers of the de­part­ment might dis­agree with those as­sess­ments. As the de­part­ment’s rep­res­ent­at­ive in Nut­ter’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, Ay­ers has been a light­ning rod for labor-man­age­ment dis­putes in re­cent years on nu­mer­ous fronts.

Fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics were forced to work without a con­tract for more than four years dur­ing Ay­ers’ ten­ure, as Nut­ter re­fused to hon­or a series of ar­bit­ra­tion awards fa­vor­able to the fire­fight­ers’ uni­on, Loc­al 22 of the In­ter­na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Fire Fight­ers. Nut­ter ended the un­pre­ced­en­ted im­passe last Septem­ber when city at­tor­neys dropped court chal­lenges to the latest ar­bit­ra­tion award. Loc­al 22 mem­bers were paid wages and be­ne­fits ret­ro­act­ively. The sides are now locked in new ar­bit­ra­tion for their next con­tract.

Ay­ers also bore much of the cri­ti­cism for his de­part­ment’s “brown out” cost-cut­ting policy, in which se­lec­ted fire com­pan­ies are shut down on ro­tat­ing bases. Loc­al 22 and com­munity lead­ers say that the policy com­prom­ises fire de­part­ment cov­er­age and the safety of fire­fight­ers and the pub­lic. The policy re­mains in place, al­though the ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it is re-eval­u­at­ing the policy and may seek to ter­min­ate it.

Ay­ers’ dis­cip­lin­ary prac­tices have also drawn the ire of Loc­al 22 mem­bers. In 2011, for ex­ample, the com­mis­sion­er rep­rim­anded Fire­fight­er Jack Sliv­in­ski for pos­ing without a shirt for a cal­en­dar photo shoot to be­ne­fit a char­ity. The fire­fight­er later com­mit­ted sui­cide.

The de­part­ing com­mis­sion­er also drew cri­ti­cism for im­ple­ment­ing man­dat­ory per­son­nel ro­ta­tions that force fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics to change as­sign­ments every few years, rather than re­main­ing in pre­ferred as­sign­ments.

The Pennsylvania Su­preme Court has agreed to hear a law­suit in­volving yet an­oth­er dis­pute between the Fire De­part­ment and Loc­al 22. The uni­on, as plaintiff, claims that Ay­ers im­prop­erly de­moted nine lieu­ten­ants and five cap­tains just months after pro­mot­ing them. Ini­tially, the uni­on claims, Ay­ers over­looked the su­per­visors for pro­mo­tions al­though the de­part­ment had va­can­cies in those po­s­i­tions, fund­ing for those po­s­i­tions and enough qual­i­fied can­did­ates to fill those po­s­i­tions. The de­part­ment later pro­moted the 14 su­per­visors upon a judge’s or­der to do so. When an­oth­er court over­ruled the ver­dict, the de­part­ment with­drew the pro­mo­tions. The uni­on main­tains that the de­part­ment did not have au­thor­ity or jus­ti­fic­a­tion to re­voke the pro­mo­tions.

Joe Schulle, pres­id­ent of Loc­al 22, de­clined to com­ment on the Ay­ers con­tro­ver­sies.

“We’re look­ing for­ward to work­ing with Com­mis­sion­er Saw­yer and hope­fully turn­ing a page on a new de­part­ment,” Schulle said.

In ad­di­tion to ap­point­ing Saw­yer as com­mis­sion­er, Nut­ter named a new lead­er­ship team in the de­part­ment, in­clud­ing Deputy Com­mis­sion­er for Op­er­a­tions Jesse Wilson, Deputy Com­mis­sion­er for Tech­nic­al Ser­vices Henry Costo, Deputy Com­mis­sion­er for Ad­min­is­tra­tion Di­ane Sch­weitzer, Deputy Com­mis­sion­er for EMS Dav­id Galla­gh­er, Ex­ec­ut­ive Chief for Per­form­ance and Stra­tegic Plan­ning Yolan­da Stallings and Ex­ec­ut­ive Chief Peter Crespo. Sch­weitzer is the first wo­man to hold her po­s­i­tion, and Crespo the first His­pan­ic to hold his po­s­i­tion.

Nut­ter called the group “one of the most di­verse and tal­en­ted teams that the de­part­ment has ever seen.” ••

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