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New Buffalo fire commissioner rose through the ranks

For the first time since 2010, the Buffalo Fire department has a commissioner who is a uniformed officer who rose through the ranks.

Deputy Commissioner Vincent V. Muscarella, who holds the civil service rank of captain, was promoted Tuesday by Mayor Byron W. Brown and unanimously confirmed by the Common Council.

Muscarella replaces Garnell W. Whitfield Jr., who retired as commissioner last July. The budgeted salary for the job is $131,757.

Brown said the fact that Muscarella is a uniformed officer who rose through the ranks “certainly was one of the factors” in his decision. The mayor added that he was "very pleased with the level of experience that he brought to this position" and with the "relationship that he has with the members of the Fire Department and the respect he has.”

“Often times we see that when firefighters are able to rise through the ranks, they get a great deal of support from the members of that department," Brown said. "He has significant support among the men and women on our Fire Department and that was certainly something we took into consideration.”

Vincent Ventresca, president of Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282, believes that Muscarella is “going to do a very good job and will make the department better.”

“Everyone is aware of the job he did and his leadership qualities, and we think it’s a really good thing he came up through the ranks. It gives him a lot of credibility with the membership,” Ventresca said. “They see what kind of job he did on the line. He was a well-respected captain. That lends to a lot of credibility.”

But now that Muscarella is a department head, he will have to strike a balance between the union and the city, and that’s not always going to be perfect, Ventresca said.

“Obviously he has a job to do as a city” department head. “The thing is we think they picked a good person to run the department. It’s going to be a good thing for the department,” Ventresca said.

Vincent Muscarella was appointed Buffalo fire commissioner on Tuesday.

After he was confirmed and sworn in, Muscarella spoke about some of his expectations and his agenda for the first few months of his leadership.

It is a three-step process that has already started, he said, beginning with the promotion of firefighters into leadership positions to help more efficiently manage the department.

Then a rookie class of firefighters will start work on Feb. 5, he added.

And the department is currently working with the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282 on a new contract, Muscarella said.

Muscarella’s predecessor, Whitfield, never rose through the uniformed ranks as a lieutenant, captain, battalion chief or division chief before being appointed to the department brass. Whitfield joined the department as a firefighter and then became a chief fire administrator who served as the department’s liaison with the state civil service and pension systems. That is not a firehouse command position.

Muscarella, 45, has been a Buffalo firefighter for the past 21 years. He joined the department in 1996 and became a lieutenant in 2009 and a captain in 2013.

Then in July 2016, Brown appointed him deputy commissioner of fire operations under Whitfield.

Lt. Jonathan T. Eaton was appointed to a deputy commissioner post at the same time. Up until Tuesday, the two men had been alternating the management of the department, Brown said.

Eaton remains a deputy commissioner. It has not been announced who will take Muscarella's place as the other deputy.

When Whitfield was appointed in 2010 to replace Michael S. Lombardo — who had held the rank of  battalion chief — there was concern in the ranks that the brass had become too political. Whitfield as well as his two deputies at the time did not have uniform rank. Whitfield was an administrator, while his two deputies held the rank of firefighter.

That began to change in 2014, when one of those deputies was replaced by Capt. Kevin Peterson.

Two years later, after Peterson resigned, Brown brought on Eaton and Muscarella.

Now with Muscarella's appointment Tuesday,  the brass is now more traditional, with both a commissioner and a deputy commissioner with supervisory firehouse rank.

Muscarella also is a state certified fire instructor and a master instructor with the International Association of Firefighters. And last year, he was selected to teach at the Fire Department Instructor Conference in Indianapolis.

“He’s a young go-getter,” said Councilman David A. Franczyk, who represents the Fillmore District. “He seems like an engaging young man.”

Also on Tuesday, Otis T. Barker Sr. was promoted to commissioner of the Department of Community Services and Recreational Programming, a position that had been vacant. Since 2011, Baker had been the department's deputy commissioner.

Department heads who were reappointed to their positions and sworn in Tuesday were:

  • Timothy A. Ball, corporation counsel
  • James Comerford, commissioner of Permits and Inspections Services
  • Daniel Derenda, police commissioner
  • Donna J. Estrich, commissioner of Administration, Finance Policy and Urban Affairs
  • Kevin Helfer, parking commissioner
  • Gladys Herndon-Hill, human resources commissioner
  • Steven J. Stepniak, commissioner of Public Works, Parks and Streets.
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