Gerard Mahoney, in an image released Wednesday by the Cambridge Fire Department.

Firefighters said goodbye Wednesday to Gerard Mahoney, who has served as their acting chief since March 2017.

Mahoney retired at 5 p.m. Wednesday after a firefighting career of some 39 and a half years that began March 6, 1983, according to a Cambridge Fire Department general order released on social media late in the day. The order was signed by the department’s new acting chief, Thomas Cahill Jr. – until Wednesday, the CFD’s assistant chief of operations.

The release of the order included gratitude for Mahoney’s service and a call to “stay healthy and stay safe.”

“Fire chief Mahoney has faithfully served the citizens of Cambridge. We wish fire chief Mahoney much happiness and good health in his retirement,” Cahill said in the order.

Cahill

Cahill was called “highly qualified and prepared to lead the Department,” in a Thursday press release from Owen O’Riordan, acting city manager. “As a longtime resident of Cambridge, Tom has spent his entire career with the Cambridge Fire Department. He has demonstrated his commitment to ensuring the safety of our community and his ability to lead the Cambridge Fire Department. I am proud to appoint Tom as the acting fire chief.”

Cahill joined the department as a firefighter in 1995 after serving in the U.S. Coast Guard for four years. He served as a firefighter and fire lieutenant in fire suppression until promoted to captain, where he served in a fire prevention and investigation unit as the first and only nationally certified fire investigator in the department, according to the press release. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix and a Master of Public Administration from Framingham State University.

The department is staffed by 278 sworn members and seven civilian members posted at eight firehouses citywide, according to the latest city budget book. The department is funded for $63.5 million – not including millions being spent on renovations and upgrades that Mahoney has helped coordinate at the city’s aging fire stations. As acting fire chief, he was also one of three members of the board of license commissioners, voting on issues at its regular meetings.

Officially acting chief

Though the farewell memo refers to Mahoney as chief, he was considered acting chief by the city. In July 2020, members of Local 30 of the Cambridge Firefighters Union said they were boycotting a selection process that skipped civil service rules and its written test in favor of a consultant approach called the Sole Assessment Center. A letter called the approach “ripe for abuse” and said an appointment through it would bring an immediate vote of no confidence.

“Our position isn’t that we don’t like Gerry Mahoney and we don’t think he should be chief,” Local 30 president Chris Haynes told the Cambridge Chronicle in 2020. “Our position is all candidates should have a reasonable chance of success. As such there should be some element of objective, written testing that goes into it, and the city should try to ensure there is no appearance of favoritism. And the city has resisted that wildly.”

Civil service questions

Formal answers as to why the city decided to forgo civil service procedures were requested by the City Council on July 27, 2020, in an order written by vice mayor Alanna Mallon and adopted unanimously. It called for a response from then city manager Louis A. DePasquale by the next regular meeting, Sept. 14, but no report came.

It was part of larger questions about “the advantages and disadvantages of continuing with civil service” from a policy order heard the previous month that was also adopted unanimously. This order called for a report by the end of the summer and was also ignored.

“I know that since I had talked to the city manager before I put in the order about civil service that the city was fully prepared and capable of delivering,” said councillor Patty Nolan, the author of the earlier order. “He said the timeline was no problem.”

The next civil service exams were set for October 2020 and April 2021, but there’s no city record of the issues being answered in time either for all municipal workers or for Mahoney and fire chefs specifically. The rules do, however, require retirement as firefighters turn 65.