Fraser puts focus on apparatus, training

Boston's new fire commissioner paid a visit to the Engine 20 Fire House on Neponset Avenue last Tuesday, the latest stop on a weekly tour designed to introduce him to fire fighters and station houses across the city. The visit was his first to the Dorchester station.

Rod Fraser was named commissioner of America's oldest fire department on September 5 after a 20-year career in the United States Navy.

After greeting fire fighters and inspecting the station house, Fraser, a 43 year-old native of East Millinocket, Maine, spoke with the Reporter about the path that led him to Boston and his agenda for department improvements in the near future.

Fraser said that he had identified three top priorities, goals that he was discussing with Mayor Thomas Menino in their weekly meetings.

The first is significant improvements to 'apparatus' &endash; firefighter lingo for trucks and engines.

"We have a very old apparatus fleet," said Fraser. There's a lot of maintenance challenges; a lot of our engines don't have the safety features we'd like to see."

His second goal is to construct a modern facility at the department's training center on Moon Island. As more and more of the department's 1,491 uniformed fighters reach retirement age (the average age of a Boston fire fighter is around 49), Fraser says thorough training for young recruits and a modern facility to do it in become increasingly important.

"Within 10 years we're going to have a brand new fire department," said Frasier. "The kids that come into the department today aren't getting the same level of training they did before; there just aren't as many fires."

Fraser's third goal is a new marine unit to patrol the Boston Harbor. He says he's in discussions with the mayor to work the purchase of a new boat into the city budget within the next several years.

With the needs of Dorchester's seven station houses specifically in mind, Fraser said he was re-tuning department structure to address the fact that a growing percentage of the the department's calls &endash; about 40 percent &endash; are as first responders to medical emergencies.

Frasier declined to discuss the details of ongoing contract negotiations between the city and the Fire Fighter's union, local.

"We've made progress in a few areas, and still have a lot of areas to work out," he said.

Ed Kelly, president of the FireFighters local 718, said he's been impressed with the new commissioner's work so far.

"I think that he brings a great energy and has a great vision for growing our department to be the best fire service provider for a post 9/11 city," said Kelly.

Fraser joined the department in September after answering an online job posting. He spent 20 years in the Navy after graduating from Maine Maritime Academy, most recently as commander of the U.S.S. Underwood homeported in Mayport, Florida. His previous firefighting experience dates back to a period between 2000 and 2003, when he served as director of an officer firefighter training program at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.