UTICA, NY--As members of the Utica Fire Department were sworn into their new ranks Thursday afternoon at City Hall, they also heard from the man selected to lead them.
Temporary Fire Chief James Barefoot was introduced at the promotion ceremony. Barefoot will replace Interim Fire Chief John Kelly, who resigned amid an investigation involving sexual text messages sent to a firefighting hopeful. Kelly resigned from the position, but will return to the role of Deputy Fire Chief, effective July 1st.
Barefoot, who retired as a captain from UFD in 2012, restated his goal to mend the public's trust in the department.
"Off-color things have happened and it's disappointing, but they're better than that and I know they are," Barefoot said.
The retired captain was selected by Mayor Robert Palmieri after the two met at a public event last week.
"One of my partners was a former Union president of Local 32 Utica Firefighters, knows him very well and he introduced me to him and he just zeroed in on me," Barefoot said.
"His name has always come up at every interview that we've had," Palmieri said. "He is by far well-revered by everyone, from some of the younger men to the older veterans at this point."
Palmieri selected the retired Barefoot over the department's other high-ranking officials because of his sterling reputation, a quality he stressed is now crucial.
"Frankly, I think it's the only choice at this particular time that would have been beneficial for the Utica Fire Department," Palmieri said. "You want someone that can actually go in there now, that has the respect of the men and the women and that's clearly Chief Barefoot."
Barefoot said he wants to take a hands-on approach to the job.
"Well, I just plan on being ever-present," Barefoot said. "I think it's the job of the chief to be out and among the men. I want to see every man on every shift in the first four days I work and just kind of give them my general feelings on what needs to be done."
For someone who never imagined himself in the department's top role, Barefoot claims there will be a small learning curve.
"I always wanted to fly under the radar but now I'm a giant blip on the radar screen," Barefoot said. "My life has turned on its ear in one week's time."
It's a learning curve Barefoot says he is willing take on temporarily to help the department.
"I have other things that I've been doing in my life and I want to go back to them," Barefoot said. "I'm doing this because I feel it's important to help them out."
Barefoot will be sworn in on July 2nd, the day he takes over the job of chief.