Former Va. fire chief to be named new Philadelphia fire commissioner

Friday, April 8, 2016
VIDEO: Fire commissioner
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VIDEO: Fire commissioner

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Action News has learned Adam Thiel, Deputy Secretary of Virginia's Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs Department, will be named the new commissioner of the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Thiel has served in his current position since 2014. Prior to that, he served as the fire chief for the City of Alexandria, Virginia, from 2007-2014.

Thiel received his Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his Bachelor of Science in Fire Science from the University of Maryland University College. He also has a Master's Degree in Public Administration from George Mason University, and completed his doctoral coursework in Public Administration at Arizona State University.

Sources tell Action News, Mayor Kenney will announce the appointment of Thiel next week. The mayor declined to discuss Thiel's appointment on Thursday night.

"We're not going to announce it 'til next week. I mean, I want everybody to get it at the same time," said Kenney. "We had planned on doing it next week, and that's when it's going to happen."

Mayor Kenney is the son of a retired Philadelphia fire battalion chief, and previously stated he wanted someone who could transition quickly, and who is familiar with the type of challenges and opportunities the department is facing.

Action News anchor Sharrie Williams spoke with Lisa C. Forrest, President of Club Valiants, an organization that is not happy about Mayor Kenney's decision.

The group released the following statement on Thursday:

Club Valiants is displeased with Mayor Kenney's decision to replace Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer. While we respect the mayor exercising his prerogative to choose his own administration, we do not believe that there is justification for removing an effective leader with a stellar record. In Commissioner Sawyer's tenure, Philadelphia has experienced its lowest recorded annual fire death rate in its entire history. It appears to our organization that the motivation behind removing Commissioner Sawyer goes far beyond improving the department or changing its leadership's perspective.

The new fire commissioner will have to tackle the following issues:

- Emergency response times

- Ambulance shortages

- Sexual harassment

- Racial tensions

One thing he will not have to worry about is fire department brownouts, the controversial temporary closings of firehouses implemented under former Mayor Michael Nutter as a cost-saving measure.

In addition, he will not have to worry about forced staff rotations, another unpopular policy under Nutter.

Officials from Fire Union Local 22 did not return phone calls for comment Thursday night, but they have a big sign on their building saying they endorsed Kenney for mayor.

It would be unlikely he would make such a major move without its support.

Above all else, Mayor Kenney has previously said he wanted someone who can honor the sacrifices our firefighters make every time they put on the uniform.