New Rochester fire chief finishes first week, looks to the future

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The new chief of the Rochester Fire Department just finished his first week on the job. At 56, Stefano Napolitano brings decades of experience to his new post.

Napolitano has big plans to keep things running smoothly in what he calls a very solid department with outstanding staff. With 38 years of experience, and a Master’s in executive fire service management, there’s no question of qualifications. And, he’s not planning to rush in with huge changes.

“My first 90 days is basically to, as I refer to it, go back to my CPR days — stop, look, listen and feel,” Napolitano said.

Stefano Napolitano isn’t quite a local. The former Batavia fire chief, he most recently was in Albany as a deputy state fire administrator.

“Am I comfortable with coming from the outside? Absolutely,” he said.

He comes in as the dust still settles from two scandals. The first was a discrimination and racial prejudice lawsuit that followed allegations of an RFD captain bringing firefighters to what was claimed to be a racist Juneteenth party. And this past June, a firefighter was arrested on child pornography charges.

“We’ll address each issue, the past issues, and if any other issues develop, in a very swift, fair, equitable and proper manner,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano takes on a mostly full team of over 500. They have about 10 openings or firefighters, and a few leadership spots, but Napolitano is not worried about filling desks or seats in the fire engines.

When they do bring on new folks, diversity will be on his mind.

“We are at 31 percent diversity,” he said.

For firefighters, that’s a lot, and it also includes women. Nationally, census data shows over 95% of firefighters are men, and 84% are white. Napolitano says that 31% lands Rochester as one of the most diverse fire departments in the state.

“That’s not good enough for me. Diversity is paramount because we need to reflect the community that we serve,” he said.

So ow do they get there?

“To give you anything right now, I think, would be premature,” Napolitano said.

After the first few months, he says we can expect some action. But the first week on the job —

“I’m a boots on the ground guy,” he said.

Napolitano went out on four calls. He also met with the head of the firefighters union, Eddie Santiago. Santiago gave News10NBC this statement on the new chief. It reads, in part:

“In recent years, we have encountered a leadership style that was vindictive, toxic and in my 28 plus years on the job, morale was at its lowest. We are hopeful about heading in a positive direction.”

Napolitano said that once he gets his bearings, he’s excited to share in detail all his plans for the department.