The City of Newburgh hired Francis, “F.J.” Spinelli as the Chief of the Fire Department. During the February 22 council meeting Spinelli was sworn in. It comes with the retirement of former fire chief and building inspector William Horton. Terry Ahlers has been the Acting Chief before Spinelli came on board.
Spinelli has called the Town of Newburgh home for a year, after his own retirement from a 28-year career at the Hartsdale Fire District in Westchester County. Before serving as the fire chief for Hartsdale Fire District, he was a police officer in Putnam County, which he loved but knew deep down he wanted to be a fireman.
“I missed it horribly – my last runs were back in June of last year,” said Spinelli about his retirement. “What I missed the most was helping people and doing what we do … I missed problem-solving and helping people as a firefighter.”
The bonds he created with the community and their loved ones through his work as a fireman was something he wanted to jump into again, this time here in Newburgh.
Spinelli’s other experience includes serving as the Director of the Westchester Career Chief’s Fire Academy, serving as a New York State Fire Instructor, and he is an active member of the New York State Incident Management Team.
He sat as the Command Staff of the Westchester County Special Operations Task Force for over ten years, where he coordinated and built a team of over 11 career fire departments across the region. This regional approach, along with his other work in the sector, led to Spinelli becoming familiar with the City of Newburgh Fire Department and former fire chiefs.
“When the opportunity did come, I was able to get out of retirement, go back to what I like to do and I had my wife’s full support – I’m in,” said Spinelli. “I couldn’t resist.”
Within just days, Spinelli felt a sense of welcomeness and at home, more than he ever expected to.
Spinelli is heading into the new position with a positive approach, despite some of the backlash the City Council showed the fire department this past fall. During the November 22 council meeting during budget season, the City Council expressed concern to the former Fire Chief Horton on the department’s overtime pay.
“I think some of the things went on because of a lack of communication,” said Spinelli. “I don’t have an agenda other than making sure that this fire department is at the forefront of what they do – our people are trained, the city is safe and they serve the citizens and we provide the best service that the people deserve. We want to communicate and to know what they want. Tell us.”
While Horton had to balance two positions as fire chief and code supervisor, Spinelli will be able to entirely focus on the fire department.
“It’s daunting having to do both positions,” said Spinelli. “City Manager Joseph Donat has managed to hire a code supervisor who is taking care of what needs to be done over there.”
As fire chief, he plans to increase communication between the fire department and the community using social media, work with the city council to negotiate a budget that works for everyone, boost morale among his firemen, use a community-centered approach, and demonstrate creative and forward thinking cooperation to tackle the department’s problems.
“I worked my entire life to become a fire chief and become the top dog,” said Spinelli. “It took me 58 years, but I’m here. While I’m here, I’m going to the best I can for our staff and the city.”
Spinelli is confident with his relationship with Donat. The city council and manager have already given Spinelli a warm welcome.
“Chief Spinelli brings extensive fire service knowledge, a public safety background, professional expertise, and leadership skills to his new role at the City of Newburgh,” said Donat in a press release. “I am confident Spinelli’s proven track record and many successes will carry over to his work here in Newburgh and prove to be an asset to our community.”
Spinelli recognized that the City of Newburgh usually hires someone from within the ranks already and is “humbled” to take on this position.
“Welcome Chief Spinelli to the Newburgh family,” said councilwoman Karen Mejia in a press release. “We are proud of our fire department and I look forward to growing the department by collaboratively managing overtime to create full-time positions.”
When Spinelli is not at the fire department, he spends time with his wife, Kathleen, and their multiple rescue dogs at their Town of Newburgh farmhouse.