Fire Chief William McKenna is retiring after nearly four decades with the Cranston Police Department, while Mayor Allan Fung has nominated Deputy Chief Paul Valletta to lead the department.
McKenna – whose final day on the job will be July 5 – was honored during an emotional proclamation presentation at the start of Monday’s meeting of the City Council.
Fire personnel lined the benches and walls of City Hall’s Council Chambers as McKenna – accompanied by members of his family – received praise from peers and council members.
“If you look around the room, you’ll see the rank and file … that just shows the respect you warrant. And we’re going to miss you, sir,” Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley said.
“People look at your legacy, and I’m going to tell you straight out, you’re a good man,” Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins said.
“You’ve made our city a better place to live, a safer place to live,” Ward 4 Councilman Edward Brady said.
Citywide Councilman Steven Stycos drew laughs from the audience when he told McKenna: “I imagine every time the phone rings, you won’t have to cringe. You should enjoy that.”
Council Vice President Michael Favicchio of Ward 6 spoke of one night after a council meeting, when he and a handful of other officials encountered a homeless veteran outside City Hall. McKenna, he said, arranged for the man to get shelter for the night.
“Everybody offered him some kind of help, but it was [McKenna] who said, ‘Do you think you’re going to make it through the night?’ … That’s the kind of man that he is,” Favicchio said.
Recalling his swearing-in as a firefighter nearly 40 years ago in the same chamber by former Mayor Ed DiPrete, McKenna said he had come “full circle.”
“I know that going forward this department will thrive, this department will continue to build, and will continue to be the greatest fire department in the whole nation … They’ve made my job easy because of their dedication,” he said.
Valletta called McKenna “one of the most tenacious firefighters I’ve ever worked with” and said the chief “knows everything there is to know about firefighting.”
“We’ve been friends for 35 years. I’m going to miss him … In a world that’s pretty nasty sometimes, we need people like Chief McKenna,” Valletta added.
McKenna, a North Providence native and longtime Cranston resident, attended La Salle Academy, Providence College and the Community College of Rhode Island. After serving on the North Providence Fire Department for several years, he was sworn in as a member of the Cranston Fire Department in 1979.
He became a lieutenant in 1990, a captain in 2000 and deputy chief in 2002. He was nominated by Fung to succeed Fire Chief James Gumbley in 2011.
Regarding his interest in the fire service, McKenna told in the Herald in 2011: “It’s something I picked up in Scouting, probably when I was 8 or 10 years old. From that point on it’s just what I’ve done.”
During his tenure, McKenna has also served as director of the city’s Emergency Management Agency. The proclamation presented to him Monday recognizes his work in that role during “numerous, unprecedented natural disasters,” including the floods of 2010, Hurricane Irene in 2011, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Winter Storm Nemo in 2013 and the macroburst storm of 2015.
During his remarks at the council meeting, McKenna also spoke of his experience as a firefighter during the Blizzard of ’78, which he called his “first major disaster.”
“From the Blizzard of ’78 through the storms of the 2010s, I learned an awful, awful lot,” he said.
Reached Monday morning before the council meeting, said he is stepping aside due to reaching the contractually mandated retirement age. He said in retirement, he hopes to teach at the Rhode Island Fire Academy – and play “a bit more golf” as well.
McKenna said he is “proud of the advancement that we’ve made in the training of our personnel” during his time as chief, as well as the “upgrading of our equipment.” He also pointed to the establishment of various training and preparedness programs and an increase in the city’s fire protection rating for insurance purposes.
In terms of his legacy, McKenna said: “We give [firefighters] a platform to continue to move forward … the fire service is changing so much, and we’re hoping to give them a background or basis to be safer, to continue to train and innovate.”
McKenna said he has worked alongside Valletta for a number of years and called him “very capable.”
“He’ll continue what we’ve been doing for the past several years,” he said.
The council’s Finance Committee is scheduled to consider Valletta’s appointment as part of the advise and consent process during its meeting on Monday, July 1. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers.