Baltimore's transportation director, Herman Williams Jr., has been named to replace Peter J. O'Connor as head of the city Fire Department.
The appointment will take effect June 30, the day after Chief O'Connor -- who retired March 25 after 40 years service, 12 as chief -- becomes official. He will begin serving as acting fire chief April 13.
Although Mr. Williams' selection had been rumored since Chief O'Connor retired, the department's new Board of Fire Commissioners, Harry X. Peaker, Delaphine S. Henson and J. Hollis R. Albert III, made their selection sooner than expected.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who recently made the unusual move of replacing the entire fire board, said in a prepared statement that he was "pleased with the fire board's selection and confident that Mr. Williams, with his broad and unique background and experience, is prepared to lead the city's fire department into the next century."
As head of the Transportation Department Mr. Williams -- who had 26 years' prior service with the fire department, including three as battalion chief -- was in charge of about 2,000 employees. He moved to the Department of Public Works in 1980 and remained there until May 1988, when he was named to head the city Department of Transportation.
He will now command a Fire Department with a complement of about 1,800 people.
Mr. Williams, 60, said he is looking forward to his new job and regards it as a challenge in light of the fact that the department is being reduced and consolidated. "We have to look at the whole structure. Once I get in there I want to get a look at that," he said.
He said he would also like to have the department work more with the community in such activities as fire prevention seminars. "Baltimore has the best fire department in the country, and I am looking forward to making it better," he added.
The fire board said it will not name anyone to replace Chief Deputy Herbert W. Catterton, who retired March 15, until after Mr. Williams' appointment becomes permanent. Mr. Catterton held the second-highest position in the department.
Also, no one has been permanently named to replace Capt. Patrick P. Flynn, who retired last month as public information officer. Capt. Hector Torres is serving on an interim basis.
Mr. Williams will be taking over a department suffering from morale problems because of budget reductions that have resulted in the consolidation of firehouses, fewer firefighters on apparatus, and furloughs.