Boston Fire Commissioner Roderick Fraser named two civilians yesterday to newly created top management positions as part of a broad restructuring that will shift the balance of power in the department's highest levels away from deputy chiefs who have risen from the union ranks.
The appointments are part of an effort by Fraser and Mayor Thomas M. Menino to improve the department, which has been buffeted by accusations of disability and sick leave abuse and has been roiled by a union contract dispute. In another sign that the changes are significant, both appointees are women, in a department overwhelmingly dominated by men.
The high-level appointments fulfill a key recommendation of an independent audit of Fire Department operations after reports that two firefighters who died in a West Roxbury restaurant fire in August had drugs and alcohol in their system. Echoing prior reviews, the audit called for greater civilian leadership in the department to offset the heavy influence of managers who were promoted from the rank and file.
The leadership overhaul gives substantially more authority over planning and policy to civilian administrators, who are seen as more independent and less likely to side with union firefighters. It also sends a clear signal to the firefighters union that management plans to adopt more stringent policies to curb reported misconduct.
Fraser said the appointments were an "important step toward improving the department in all areas," and would provide tougher "independent oversight."
"I'm trying to run the Fire Department more like a business," he said. "We need to be more accountable to taxpayers by spending their money wisely."
"That's not the union's goal," Fraser added.
Ed Kelly, president of the Boston firefighters union, could not be reached yesterday.
Fraser named Karen Glasgow, who has helped oversee the city's legal affairs office for the past nine years, as deputy commissioner of labor and management. She will earn $105,000 in the new job. He named Kathleen Kirleis, the Fire Department's civilian chief of administrative services, as deputy commissioner of administration and finance, a job that will pay $117,000. Glasgow previously represented the department legally, and Kirleis was brought on three years ago to address mismanagement in the department. Fraser said he plans to name a third civilian deputy chief as the audit recommended.
Fraser and Menino have clashed with the union over the past several months over mandatory random drug testing, which the panel recommended but the union has resisted unless it gets large raises for its members in exchange for what it sees as a concession.
Fraser said the two administrators would be charged with reviewing department practices and making recommendations for streamlining operations. Glasgow would be the department's full-time legal adviser, he said.
"These women have proven themselves with strong leadership capabilities and have earned respect throughout the department," he said.
Jim Shannon, president of the Quincy-based National Fire Protection Association and chairman of the three-member review panel that evaluated the department, said the appointments will help give the administrative side of the department "real power."
"I think it's a very important step to have some civilian help at the planning and policy level," he said. "If you make the commissioner totally dependent on the uniform side of the department, you really put him at a disadvantage."
Shannon said that civilian leadership in the Fire Department was once common but had waned sharply over the past 20 years.
A Globe review of earlier reviews of the Fire Department in 1994, 1995, and 1999 found that the city failed to institute 50 of 82 recommendations, half of them not subject to collective bargaining.