By Seth Daniel
City Manager Tom Ambrosino announced on Friday, March 4, that he had chosen Len Albanese, chief of the North Providence Fire Department, to be the next permanent fire chief for Chelsea.
Albanese, 50, will start the new job in April 4.
The new chief is a 30-year veteran of the fire service in North Providence, having been a senior officer for 10 years and the chief for six years. He said he had extensive front line experience, having been on the front lines for 20 years and expressed confidence that he could lead the Chelsea Fire Department.
“I became a firefighter at the age of 20 and it’s all I ever wanted to do,” Albanese said. “My dad was a volunteer firefighter in our town when I was growing up for 30 years. It exposed me to it and it’s really the only job I ever wanted since I was a kid.”
He also added it was the first time he had applied for any other job in 30 years.
“I’m not looking to leave the fire service after 30 years,” he said. “I was looking for a community I felt I could help and It think I can help in Chelsea…I was looking for a challenge and a place I could use my skills. I’ve had a lot of success in North Providence reorganizing and restructuring and providing direction to the department.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino, who was faced with deciding between the outside candidate in Albanese, and two internal candidates in Acting Chief Robert Houghton and Deputy Chief John Quatieri, said he had no bias in the process and listened to his Assessment Center, stakeholders and his gut reaction.
“I really took this very seriously,” he said. “There were some very good internal candidates…At the end of the day, I decided Len was the best chief. I remaining optimistic it will work out. He’s done a good job in North Providence. It’s of a similar size to Chelsea, but not the same demographics. He believes he is up to the task and I believe his is too.”
Fire Union President Brian Capistran said the Union at this time had no comment on the hire.
City Councillor Giovanni Recupero, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said he believes it was a good hire.
“It will be a good thing for the City,” he said. “An outside person who comes in has a different perspective and a different view on how the fire service should be done. He can take good things he did down there an apply them to our city. I believe the choice Tom made is a fine choice. If he has confidence in him, so do I.”
What Albanese inherits will be a tough hand to play.
Two popular internal candidates were passed over in a department that is extremely parochial and hasn’t warmed up in the past to outside chiefs. He will also inherit a department increasingly at odds with the City Council over overtime pay that has gone through the roof the last two years and looks to go to the same heights again this year.
Getting those things in line will be rather difficult, while at the same time continuing to provide one of the best and busiest fire services in the state.
Albanese said none of that is foreign to him and he is well aware of the overtime challenges and other challenges ahead of him.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here,” he said. “To be honest, I came into the chief’s position in my department six years ago during very trying times. There was a budget crisis and we suffered from a shortage of staffing. I came in during a very hostile time. A main objective of a fire chief is to be the intermediary between the firefighters and the City. I don’t look at them as two different entities. I was able to bring the two back together. I was able to have success in North Providence and I think that has prepared me for the same success in Chelsea…It’s what attracted me to this job.”
Albanese said he has no real connections to Chelsea, but his daughter does attend college in Boston and is looking to settle here. He said he also would like to settle in the area for professional and personal reasons.
He said he’s ready to start and he hopes that he can work with the other two internal candidates and has the utmost respect for them.
“I’m looking forward to it and being a part of the Chelsea Fire Department,” he said. “The two other candidates I met during the process and they are tremendous talents and I look forward to working with them. I need their cooperation and help in making sure we take the Chelsea Fire Department in the right direction.”