Baltimore fire chief retires after nearly 40 years O'Connor expresses concern for morale

March 25, 1992|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

After nearly 40 years of service in the city Fire Department, Chief Peter J. O'Connor reported for his last day of work yesterday.

"I'm relieved to be finally retiring and a little concerned about the future of the department," the chief said yesterday.

"When you live and breathe the department for 38 years, it's part of you, a family. I'll always have concerns about the department even though I'm stepping out. I'm concerned about the morale, who will be my successor, the 1,800 men and women of the department."

"If you were a firefighter, you looked forward to the inconveniences," he said. "I loved the fire service. It was never a chore."

Chief O'Connor, who headed the department for 12 years, said he had no specific plans except some traveling and "getting used to sleeping late. I also plan to play a lot of golf. . .the Lord knows my game needs improving."

Chief O'Connor's official retirement date is June 29 but he will take accrued vacation time and retirement leave time, said Capt. Hector Torres, department spokesman.

On March 15, Deputy Chief Herbert W. Catterton, the department's second in command, retired.

That job is expected to be filled within a week, Captain Torres said, and the new deputy chief will serve as acting chief.

Captain Torres said four deputy chiefs are being considered for the chief deputy position. They are: Clyde J. Smith, 59, a 32-year veteran; Henry D. Fowlkes, 59, a 33-year veteran; Gary E. Frederick, 50, a 28-year veteran; and Raymond Lehr, 40, a 21-year veteran.

The two vacancies will be filled by the city's new Board of Fire Commissioners -- President Harry X. Peaker, Delaphine S. Henson and J. Hollis R. Albert 3rd. They will choose the new chief in consultation with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Once a chief deputy has been selected, the remaining candidates will automatically be placed in consideration for Chief O'Connor's job, the captain said.

Herman Williams Jr., commissioner for the city Department of Transportation, is reportedly among those being considered for the top Fire Department position.

Captain Torres said no date has been set for the chief's position to be filled.

Chief O'Connor was born in the 1400 block of E. Lanvale St. and later moved with his family to the 400 block of S. Washington St.

He attended both Polytechnic Institute and Baltimore City College but completed neither. He joined the Army, became a paratrooper and served with the 11th Airborne.

Chief O'Connor, 58, began his career with the department in 1954 at Engine Co. 50 at Holabird Avenue and Newkirk Street in Canton.

He went to Engine Company 6 in Oldtown, where he was promoted to lieutenant. He then was transferred to Engine Company 34 on Caroline Street near Gough Street.

For about 10 years, he was president of the Baltimore Fire Officers Association, Local 964.

He returned to Oldtown for about three years and was promoted to captain. He was then assigned to Walbrook, Engine 20, and then to Engine Company 5 on Ann Street in upper Fells Point.

Following another assignment at an engine company on Eastern Avenue at Collington Avenue, he was promoted to battalion chief and assigned to a station in Roland Park.

In 1972, he went back to Oldtown and was promoted in 1976 to battalion commander. He was then stationed on Park Heights Avenue near Classen Street until he was promoted to deputy chief three years later.

Chief O'Connor was selected for a staff postion where he directed fire prevention efforts.

On July 30, 1980, he was promoted chief of the Fire Department.

"It was a great ride," the chief said.

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