Fire Chief Seeks Performance Evaluations

Firefighter Timothy Borer passed all the required tests and assessments, so he was promoted and sworn in Tuesday to become a fire inspector.

However, as long as he stays in that position, there will be no formal annual review of his work to help him improve at the job. Neither the department nor the firefighters’ union contract requires one.

Fire Chief John Alston, Jr. wants to change all that. By going first.

Borer was sworn as the city’s seventh fire inspector at Tuesday morning’s regular monthly meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners.

Alston took the opportunity, as part of the commissioners’ new business, to announce to the commissioners that since his contract is coming up for renewal, “I sent the board an evaluation document. This has not been done in the past. It is a performance evaluation. I want to do it. To lead by example. Please be brutally honest.”

Alston said his action was voluntary;the mayor is the only person who must approve and offer to renew or renegotiate his contract. But he said he hopes that eventually every sworn officer in his department will have a similar department-level review.

For such annual performance review to occur, the firefighters union would have to agree to it, confirmed Assistant Corporation Counsel Audrey Kramer.

In an interview after the meeting, Alston said that this practice in not uncommon in other fire departments: Your boss reviews you. You comment on the review,  not in a punitive way but in the spirit of improvement. Then the two of you sign the completed review document.

He said the practice would be “progressive” for the NHFD.

Alston said the vast majority of his firefighters do a good job, and that should be acknowledged more. He took pains in October, on the occasion of the 155th birthday of the department, to do just that: Give out acknowledgements and award of merit for courage and performance. That type of recognition had not formally taken place since 2002, he said.

Hand in hand with that, an annual performance assessment would be a big plus for the department, he contended: After a promotion, for example, a person can stay in a job for years, at any level, with no formal review.

“It’s the only way we have to inspire ourselves: to ask questions and ask questions of ourselves as to what can I do and how to be better,” he said.

In the short document Alston gave the commissioners, he outlined the different areas of his work, and solicited their commentary on each. They included leadership; management effectiveness; personnel management; innovation; special contributions; and public service orientation.

“They might say, ‘This guy puts out fires,’” but his interaction with the public needs improvement, Alston said by way of giving a theoretical response.

“I make my case” after receiving their comments, he added, and then the documents are forwarded to the mayor to review in connection with making a renewal offer, if that is decision, to the chief.

Allan Appel PhotoHow all this would work with the rank and file, of course, is to be determined down the road.

After the meeting, fire union President Frank Ricci said he’s open to including Alston’s idea in negotiations on a new contract, expected to begin in March.

“The fire union is always willing to discuss anything with management that will improve the department,” Ricci said.

The department currently has 41 vacancies, with a civil service list of approved potential firefighters which the deparment is waiting to be approved. When it is, Alston said, the department will begin fielding a class of 40 new firefighters as early as Feb. 20, he said, to begin the 16 weeks of training.

Fielding that class and one more as soon as possible is the department’s way of preparing for current and expected waves of retirees in the coming months.

One of those is Thomas Neville, an assistant chief, now in his 30th year, who serves the final shift of his 30-year career Tuesday night.

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posted by: embe on January 16, 2018  2:31pm

Congratulations to Deputy Chief Neville on an outstanding career!

posted by: Peter99 on January 16, 2018  7:38pm

A part of the annual review should look at the individuals continuing fire service education and certificates earned. In addition to actual job performance, requirements for promotion should include educational requirements for all officer level positions above captain.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 16, 2018  7:59pm

Firefighter Timothy Borer passed all the required tests and assessments, so he was promoted and sworn in Tuesday to become a fire inspector.

I wonder if this guy is related to the the ex mayor of west haven name Borer?

Alston took the opportunity, as part of the commissioners’ new business, to announce to the commissioners that since his contract is coming up for renewal, “I sent the board an evaluation document. This has not been done in the past. It is a performance evaluation. I want to do it. To lead by example. Please be brutally honest.”

You will not have to worry.Those so call fire commissioner who are nothing more then political hacks got you back as long as you stay lock step with the machine.

posted by: jamesj@newhaven on January 17, 2018  10:55am

Absolutely mind-boggling that there are no performance evaluations for city employees!

posted by: thecove on January 17, 2018  1:24pm

As a Public Service Administrator, I can tell you that Performance Evaluation systems are complicated, mainly due to their subjectivity.  A certain supervisor may not like a particular employee and rate him low or have a “favorite” that he rates high.  Needless to say, as a result, there must be union involvement in its inception and application.  In other words, not something that will happen overnight, but should be negotiated and eventually implemented.

posted by: 1644 on January 18, 2018  2:34am

The key to an effective performance evaluation system is forced ranking.  Without forced ranking, an organization becomes Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average.  Subjectivity will always be present, but can be tempered by having evaluations flow through a chain of command and/or be a cooperative process.  In naval commands, for instance,  all first class petty officers are given rough evaluations by their immediate supervisors, usually a chief petty officer.  All the chiefs in the command then meet to “rack and stack” the first class petty officers, and formal evaluations are then tweaked to make the verbal write-up and numerical grades match the ranking. Promotions are often handled in a similar way, with boards examining the candidates evaluations, and sometimes test scores, then ranking them to decide who is advanced and who is not advanced.  Those who do not advance are, eventually, discharged.

posted by: ThinkingOutLoud on January 18, 2018  8:55am

Not only should the fire department have annual performance evaluations, included in these evaluations, it should be taken into consideration the amount of time these firefighters take off from work, this is not a job where get to call out sick whenever you feel like not going to work.  The community depends on you, and that’s what tax dollars are used for.  Also, the claim of workman’s compensation injuries that allegedly occur during work, but happen to be something that was pre existing, and/or occurred during their off time from work.  Rarely are these incidences investigated, and they take a significant amount of time off, while being paid for it.  Not only should you be rated on your performance, and how well perform the duties required of you, it should also measure your commitment, integrity and responsibility for the actions and behaviors that occur during work time.  For firefighters reading this, I’m not speaking in code.  You know exactly what I mean.  I’ve never witnessed such a divided fire department, where so much back stabbing occurs, just so that that particular person can advance their own agenda.  Chief Alston is doing a nice job and bringing new ideas to become more transparent and fair.  Congratulations to Deputy Chief Neville.

posted by: Inside 165 on January 18, 2018  9:53am

Fire Commissioners doing this, all of whom have no real experience in the leadership of any organization like this, is laughable.  As commissioners they actually have little insight into what’s good for the NHFD, hard to believe but true.

What’s the point of these evaluations. Alston can, as has always been permittted, do evaluation on the many probationary employees that have been employed under his tenure.  Guess what, he hasn’t. 

What would these evaluations yield? Alston used to get letters from from officers on a weekly basis for transgressions of employees and did nothing.  The officers don’t even bother reporting them anymore.  Drug and alcohol use, not showing up to work, insubordination, fist fights in the fire house, firefighters arrested, engine 16 taking 10 minutes to respond to a call 30 seconds away from the fire house. Alsron does nothing! A fire captain was documented by the New Haven Police using the n-word towards a new haven citizen and Alston was made aware of it that day. What did Alston do? Promote him to battalion chief the next day. I won’t bother to mention all the giveaway deals he enters into with the fire union. The same thing Paca was allegedly fired for. Sick time is off the charts. The department has almost every position filled according to its submissions to city hall yet still clocks tens of thousands of dollars a week in overtime. Alston spends as much time in jersey, where his family still lives, as he does in Connecticut despite his ridiculous $24,000 a year housing stipend. 

If Alston truly wanted to gauge his performance instead of relying on a group of uniformed rubber stamps like the fire comm. he would have his rank and file submit anonymous evaluations of his performance.

If you really want an evaluation of the person in charge and calling all the shots at the NHFD do an evaluation of the union president Frank Ricci. He might even give you a comment if he takes a break from eating Alstons lunch.