New London — An emotional Deputy Fire Chief Henry E. Kydd Jr. was named chief of the department Wednesday, saying it's a position he never thought he would achieve.
"These are really tears of joy,'' said Kydd, who thanked members of his family and several firefighters from the department who clapped when the announcement of his promotion was made in City Hall.
Kydd, who will become the city's first black fire chief, also thanked Chief Ronald Samul, a 42-year veteran of the department who has been chief for the past 26 years. Samul is retiring in April.
A change of command ceremony is expected to take place April 1.
Kydd said his goal, when he joined the department 35 years ago, was to become a battalion chief. His mentor at the time was the late Fred Philopena, a battalion chief who became chief in 1979. Philopena was also an emotional man who worked his way up through the ranks.
"It was not expected,'' Kydd said Wednesday of his rise from battalion chief to deputy chief last year and now chief.
"I thought I had peaked at battalion chief. ... To do this would be an honor as well as a challenge. I'm very happy," he said.
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio made the announcement outside his office in City Hall saying it was a "no-brainer" to select Kydd for the job.
"He's a great guy, and we're so glad he accepted the post,'' Finizio said.
Last March, after Samul announced he would be retiring in 2013, Kydd was promoted to deputy chief, a position that had been vacant for eight years. At the time, Finizio said Kydd would be learning the duties of chief for a smooth transition when Samul stepped down. Since Oct. 15 Samul has been using accrued compensation time and was no longer overseeing the day-to-day operations of the department.
On Wednesday, Kydd said he has ideas for the department, all of which would need funding, and he intends to start searching for grant money.
Among the things he wants to do, he said, is increase training for officers in the 64-person department so more promotions can come from within the rank and file.
Additional training would "level the playing field," he said, and would help those who want to move on to other jobs.
But first he said, he plans to "sit back and observe" the department.
"There are challenges ahead,'' he said. "We're going to have to come up with some creative financing."
Finizio said the deputy chief position will remain vacant, and there are ongoing discussions as to whether it would be filled.
The fire department came under close scrutiny last year about its lack of minorities after the first black firefighter hired in more than 30 years was fired before he graduated from the state fire academy. Al Mayo said he had been mistreated by the city and fire academy because he was black.
After members of the state and local NAACP and other rights groups put pressure on the city, Mayo was rehired with back pay. Finizio said at the time he changed his mind and rehired Mayo after receiving new information, including a report on the fire academy that concluded Mayo might have been treated unfairly during his training.