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New Fire Chief hopeful after rough start

Niagara Falls Repoerter

January 11, 2011

By Frank Parlato Jr.

What do Peter Kay of Perrysburg, Ohio, Ali Marzban of Los Angeles, and Roger Melchior of Ellenton, Fla., have in common?

They were hired by Mayor Paul Dyster, after he searched the nation for the brightest and best to serve in his administration.

As Economic Development director, Kay, at $100,000 a year, came in late 2008 and was gone in December 2010, after the Council, led by Chairman Sam Fruscione, reduced his salary to what critics said Kay was actually worth: one dollar. In two years, Kay hadn't created a single private sector job.

Another of Dyster's out-of-town jewels was Marzban, who became city engineer at $90,000. His resume and degree from Teheran were impressive. The only problem was that he did not have an engineering license -- as this publication was first to point out. Marzban was fired.

The city's new fire chief, Roger Melchior, 63, was also hired after a national search. He gets $79,092.

As to how he will fare, the jury is out.

Meanwhile, no one -- not even the mayor, it seems -- was certain at first how to pronounce his name.

"It is pronounced Mel-ke-or," Melchior said. "Spelled like the king who was, according to legend, one of the Three Wise Men.

"I've never been called a wise man, but I have been called a wiseguy."

Melchior, according to the mayor, was selected over 30 other candidates. As to the procedure that lies behind hiring the brightest and best, Melchior said he was interviewed first by telephone by a cadre of people, then invited for an in-person interview. There were five or six people, including the mayor, present.

"I sat on the hot seat for three hours," he said. "It was the longest interview I ever had."

Sources in the Fire Department have suggested that Melchior's recent job record and comportment hardly indicate he is the best and brightest a national search could produce.

The facts, according to Melchior, are these: He was in the Baltimore Fire Department for 22 years, starting as a firefighter and rising to lieutenant training officer. He left the department in 1990. Afterward, he worked for All American Environmental in Baltimore for five years. His next job took him to Allouez, Wis. -- population: 15,000 --where he was Public Safety director for six years.

After leaving that position in 2001, Melchior had some difficulties getting gainful employment. At one point, he decided to let his wife work and he would, he said, be "Mr. Mom."

After two years, his wife was fired, and Melchior, seeking employment again, was able to secure a teaching position with Saint Petersburg College. He was in charge of the Emergency Management Program and firefighting training. Again, after a few years he was let go. From there, although seeking full-time work, he was only able to secure part-time work in Manatee, Fla., as a substitute teacher. For a time, he was on unemployment, and he picked up a job doing census work for the federal government for a month last year.

Melchior said he was on 50 interviews before he landed a job here.

As to his comportment, after he was selected, the mayor introduced him to the Council and, asked to speak, Melchior said he told the Council, "Nope. I'm a plainspoken man. I don't need to make a speech."

Then, not five minutes after he had been sworn in, he collapsed in the parking lot and had to be rushed to the hospital.

Melchior gave that an optimistic spin. "It was nice," he said, "in one respect, to see how the emergency medical system works from the other side. Of course I had been (as a firefighter) involved in many emergency responses, but never for myself."

He heaped lavish praise on the paramedics who helped him.

Shortly after he recovered from his initial collapse, Melchior fell in the Walmart parking lot and broke his ankle. Melchior said his hospitalization was covered not by the city's Blue Cross and Blue Shield, but by his insurance from his Baltimore firefighters' pension.

It was almost December before he started work. Once there, he was blunt at times. He said he told one employee who was having a bad hair day to "get a haircut."

And apparently he insulted firefighters. When some, eager to get to know their leader, came to Melchior offering their hands and telling him their names, Melchior declared, "I am not going to remember your names until I've been here for a while."

And Melchior was sharply criticized because -- after being on sick leave for a month and working less than one month -- he took a paid vacation during Christmastime to return home to St Petersburg.

"At work I had vacation allotment," Melchior said. "I went to my supervisor (City Administrator Donna Owens) and it was approved."

The mayor, defending Melchior, said, "If a person has vacation time coming, he is entitled to use it."

Still, when Melchior returned from vacation, he called in sick, this time with the flu, and was out again all last week.

"He had a bad time when he was moving up," the mayor explained. "We're trying to give him some time to work it out."

Melchior said he would return to work Monday this week.

If you took a poll of firefighters, one suspects that, while former fire chief William Mackay was well liked among the 135 firefighters of this city, Melchior is viewed with suspicion and some contempt.

Conversely, Melchior sees much to praise in the department.

"The firefighters here take good care of their equipment," he said. "They wear their safety equipment, and their comportment is exemplary. This is a fine group of men and women."

When asked what he would do to improve things, he pointed to two items: to look into the union contract and to redo the emergency response plan.

"Fire Services is a dynamic, changing operation," he said of the latter. "Changing every day. The plan is 10 years old, and some of the rules were written in 1981."

Funny, Dyster tapped Melchior as the brightest and best, yet Melchior was having difficulty finding a job. But it seems clear that Melchior is an experienced firefighter and trainer of firefighters, with a wealth of colorful and varied experience.

 

 

 
 
 
  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.