Panel backs Valletta as next fire chief

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Assistant Fire Chief Paul Valletta is poised to become the next chief of the Cranston Fire Department.

On a unanimous vote Monday, the City Council’s Finance Committee backed Mayor Allan Fung’s nomination of Valletta to succeed Chief William McKenna, who is retiring July 5. The full council is set to vote on the nomination at its meeting July 22.

A 35-year veteran of the Fire Department, Valletta is the former president of Cranston IAFF Local 1363 and a lobbyist with the Rhode Island Association of Firefighters. He became the department’s assistant chief in April following the departure of Bernard Patenaude, who was named fire chief in East Greenwich.

In accepting the nomination for the chief’s position, Valletta has agreed to leave his role with RIAF, according to Director of Administration Daniel Parrillo.

“What I can tell you is, I’ll do what I’ve done for the last 35 years, work everyday … for the citizens of this city,” Valletta told council members following the vote.

Valletta drew nearly unanimous praise from council members and others in attendance for the Finance Committee’s meeting. He was specifically lauded for his efforts during the 2010 flooding, the 2018 chemical fire and the response to incidents at the Adult Correctional Institutions.

McKenna said Valletta “has served in almost every division within the city of Cranston’s Fire Department” during his career.

“In all that time, the chief has been a firefighter’s fighter,” McKenna said. “The men who are standing behind me today would tell that they would follow him anywhere … There’s no one more qualified, no one more capable and no one more deserving of this position. Here’s earned it.”

Ken Rouleau, a retired Cranston deputy fire chief, said Valletta has consistently demonstrated “leadership and teamwork.” He spoke of the assistant chief’s “sense of civic duty.”

“Paul Valletta’s the most honorable, conscientious, compassionate man I’ve ever met,” he said. “And many, many, many firefighters around the state and people who deal with him in his public service are inspired by him … I want to thank Mayor Fung for putting Paul Valletta up, because he is the man for the job.”

Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley said he has known Valletta for decades.

“I'll be honored when I can say ‘yes’ to your appointment, sir,” he said.

Council President Michael Farina called Valletta “a great man, a great leader and a great firefighter.” Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas added: “If a fire breaks out, we’ll all sleep well knowing that you're in charge.”

There was only one reference during the discussion to Valletta’s September 2017 arrest in connection with an altercation at a city fire station.

Valletta was accused of punching Lt. Scott Bergantino and was charged by Rhode Island State Police with simple assault and disorderly conduct. He was suspended following the incident and returned to duty in October 2017.

Valletta was acquitted of the simple assault charge and found guilty of disorderly conduct, although that ruling was later disposed of during an appeal. Bergantino, meanwhile, remains off duty. He has filed a federal lawsuit against Valletta and the city, which remains pending.

Ward 1 Councilman Steve Stycos – who does not sit on the Finance Committee and did not vote Monday – said he is opposed to Valletta’s nomination due to the incident.

“I believe I’ve supported every appointment that Mayor Fung has made because I think it’s very important for the mayor to have people who he can rely on and trust,” Stycos said. “However, I will not be voting for Mr. Valletta. I do not think that we should have a fire chief who quite recently assaulted another fireman. I think that’s a danger to all the other firemen … I think that was a terrible incident.”

During a Monday appearance on Tara Granahan’s WPRO radio program, Fung defended the selection of Valletta. He said he has “reviewed all of the testimony” from the legal proceedings involving Valletta and said he believes the incoming chief has the right temperament for the position.

“Overall, this wasn’t a fly by night decision that I made,” he said. “I felt that I had to do what’s best for the city’s long term to provide a great fire department.”

Fung and Parrillo said Valletta was nominated for the chief’s position through a three-step process. Three candidates were initially considered, but Patenaude’s departure winnowed the field to two, Parrillo said.

The first portion of the process was a written exam provided through Resource Management Associates, an out-of-state firm the city contracts with through its Personnel Department. The second step involved an interview with a panel of three outside fire chiefs – those from North Kingstown, East Providence and Smithfield. The final step was an interview with Fung, Parrillo and Deputy Director Administration Josh Psilopoulos.

“Chief Valletta came out first in all three parts of the process,” Parrillo said.

The salary for the chief’s position will be $116,183, Parrillo said. Valletta will also give up his union membership and join the city’s administrative unit, where he will no longer be eligible for overtime and will contribute 25 percent of his health care costs. He will be eligible to accrue comp time.

Fung on Tuesday said he was pleased with the Finance Committee’s vote.

“In interviewing Chief Valletta, he had the right vision for the city,” he said. “I’m glad that those council members saw that as well … He’s got an overall vision in ensuring our residents are safe, and that’s why I selected him.”

Fung also noted that Valletta has also been appointed to the Diversity Committee recently formed to focus on the city’s workforce, and particularly its police and fire departments.

“Diversity has to be a commitment that we make within the fire department and every other city department,” the mayor said.

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