With one announcement, Mayor Byron W. Brown Wednesday restored full staffing of the Fire Department’s top brass, which has been operating with three openings for the past six months.
Brown promoted Fire Capt. Vincent V. Muscarella and Fire Lt. Johnathon T. Eaton to deputy commissioners posts. They will serve under the current fire commissioner, Garnell W. Whitfield Jr.
The mayor also promoted Fire Lt. James O. Otwell to head the department’s Fire Investigation unit.
During a promotional ceremony, Brown also announced Wednesday that the city will soon be hiring a new class of 50 fire recruits, adding to the 109 new firefighters hired last year.
“Today marks a new era for the city’s fire department as new leadership comes in to effectively manage this complex department and the new firefighters that have been recently hired or will be hired,” Brown said.
Whitfield has been fire commissioner since 2010, but his top assistants have come and gone – sometimes being pushed out.
Since January, Whitfield was operating the department without any deputies while the Brown Administration searched to fill the openings.
One of the past deputies, Vincent R. Gugliuzza, was forced out of the position in 2014, blamed for not doing a better job of getting a handle on Fire Department overtime. The other deputy at the time was Joseph J. Tomizzi.
Gugliuzza was soon replaced by Capt. Kevin Peterson, who served as deputy along with Tomizzi until November 2015, when Tomizzi abruptly stepped down, and went back to his union firefighter rank.
Tomizzi was under investigation at the time for allegedly abusing his authority to run criminal background checks on people. Tomizzi denied the charges.
As deputy, Tomizzi served in two roles – as deputy and as commander of the fire investigations unit, which he headed up prior to being named deputy.
Two months after Tomizzi stepped down, Peterson in January 2016 announced he was getting ready to retire, and would step down as deputy to revert back to his civil service position of battalion chief. At the time, Peterson said the move would get him a better retirement package.
With both deputy positions as well as the fire investigations commander position open, the Brown Administration posted the job openings, and began interviewing candidates.
The three men selected, Brown said Wednesday, have a total of 60 years experience among them.
Muscarella is a 20-year veteran of the department, and is a master instructor for the International Association of Firefighters.
Eaton has been with the department for 14 years, and previously served as a police officer in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Otwell has more than 20 years of fire and emergency management experience, as well as 24 years of military experience.
The appointments of Muscarella, Eaton and Otwell was praised by Tom Barrett, president of Buffalo firefighters union, Local 282, who said he’s pleased the department promoted from within and also chose individuals who had rank and leadership roles in their fire houses.
In the past, union officials have criticized Brown for sometimes choosing deputies – Tommizzi and Gugliuzza – who had the civil service rank of firefighter.
Whitfield’s Civil Service rank is fire administrator.