For the next month, Schenectady has a new assistant fire chief: Raymond Senecal.
He was sworn in Thursday morning, just after Chief Michael Della Rocco announced that he plans to retire by the end of the month.
That means Senecal will likely be promoted to chief in just a few weeks.
“I’m taking things one step at a time,” he said Thursday.
Still, officials at his swearing-in ceremony tacitly acknowledged that they expect he will be the next chief.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett had many words of praise for Senecal.
“He is the guy,” Bennett said. “He is a non-nonsense, hands-on, well-disciplined officer. It’s a dangerous business they’re in, and we can have nothing short of that.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy, who chose Senecal, said he had a high “level of confidence” in him.
“He knows the department. He knows the city,” McCarthy said. “He is a tremendous asset, command presence that makes people feel comfortable. Ray, you’re going to do a great job.”
Now that an assistant chief has been chosen, Della Rocco said he plans to retire by the end of the month.
Leaving soon will make the changeover smoother, he said.
“I think this will actually make the transition easier and more effective,” he said.
He said the department is in good, experienced hands with Senecal.
Senecal has worked for the department for almost 25 years. As a deputy chief for the past decade, he has overseen the attack on hundreds of fires.
“My job is to get my men into the building and make a rescue,” he said, recalling the May fire on Hulett Street in which he directed the team that rescued four children and one adult.
“And we did rescue them, five rescues,” he said. “But our job isn’t done. Now I have to coordinate the kids’ treatment. And transport. It’s no good if they’re lying on the street. And with five, that’s tapping our resources to the limit. So that was a challenging fire.”
He paused. Only one child survived. He hasn’t forgotten it.
“The outcome was unfortunate,” he said. “But we did our job.”
He’s seen other terrible fires before, and he’s learned to handle the losses.
“Staying close to your men” is important, he said, adding that the talks after the fire help them recover.
They also try to put some emotional distance between them and the fire.
“We try to learn from every fire,” he said, “critiquing the fire: What went wrong? What went right?”
As assistant chief, he is focusing on the future.
“My first challenge is to maintain the service we deliver now,” he said. “Chief Della Rocco does an excellent job.”
He’s concerned about training.
“We have a young department, and that means less experience,” he said. “When I’m sending 10 men into a fire, I want to know they’re trained for whatever’s coming at them.”
But he doesn’t plan to push for more staff, he said. The department has 121 members.
“Look, 100 men [a day] wouldn’t be enough,” he said. “You have to be realistic with the budget. So as far as staffing goes, we have to maintain what we have.”