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Interim fire chief will come from within department

Oct. 21, 2010

Assistant Fire Chief Michael Anton will lead the Wauwatosa Fire Department come Jan. 5.

The Police and Fire Commission has named Anton the interim chief when Fire Chief Dean Redman retires, going against a recommendation by city officials who thought Police Chief Barry Weber would make a better choice in the short-term.

The commission considered applicants for the position in closed session. However, they voted, unanimously, in open session, citing a desire to see continuity of management and operations within the department and a leader with experience protecting the safety of the public and firefighters.

"If you were to consider me, I would serve in that role professionally and objectively," Anton said.

As the commission talked about entering closed session, Mayor Jill Didier asked that the people in attendance be given an opportunity to speak.

She and three aldermen talked about Weber's background in public safety administration and his ability to take command during an emergency situation - such as the shooting of an officer that occurred in late 2009 - as reasons for the recommendation.

Selecting the police chief would help take the emotion out of creating a taskforce and looking at whether to make changes recommended by a consultant.

"The Fire Department management will resist our review and potential adoption of this report," Alderman Peter Donegan said.

In the case of an emergency, Donegan said, he would want Anton responding. But he expressed much less confidence in his ability to support difficult decisions such as cutting costs, and possibly jobs, in the future.

Anton's resistance to engaging in a study of the Fire Department and the results that have been provided to city officials makes Donegan believe he is unwilling to make changes, Donegan added.

Tosa needs to look for creative ways to deliver services for less money, especially because the Fire Department accounts for a quarter of the operating budget, city officials said.

"The status quo will continue," Budget Committee Chairman Alderman Brian Ewerdt said after the vote.

Deputy Fire Chief Scott Erke acknowledged there has been tension between his department and people at City Hall, but said that tension came about because the fire staff was supporting their leader and passionate about protecting Wauwatosa residents.

"Our fight is always driven by public safety," he said.

The commission also voted to hire a recruitment firm, Voorhees & Associates, to help find a permanent replacement chief. A representative of the firm said he hoped a candidate could be selected in February.

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