Retiring NOFD superintendent honored at leadership transfer ceremony

At a ceremony Friday, Superintendent Tim McConnell reflected on his 36 years at the department and handed over leadership to Deputy Superintendent Roman Nelson

Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — To cap off his last day on the job, retiring New Orleans Fire Chief Tim McConnell handed a trumpet symbolizing leadership to his interim successor, Deputy Superintendent Roman Nelson.

By accepting the instrument, styled after those used by firefighters to communicate before radios, Nelson on Friday took the reins of one of the city's most important frontline agencies.

The ceremony also marked the end of a career for McConnell that began when he joined the NOFD in 1984. He had been the department's superintendent since 2013.

A native of New Orleans and graduate of Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, McConnell steadily worked his way up the department's ranks. He eventually took charge of the agency's Suppression and Logistics Division before being promoted to second-in-command in 2009.

McConnell won praise from city leaders for spearheading the restoration of 20 of the 23 firehouses damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

After Superintendent Charles Parent left in 2013, then-Mayor Mitch Landrieu tapped McConnell to fill the vacancy, first on an interim basis and then full-time. Landrieu's successor, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, retained McConnell after she took office in 2018.

Though McConnell was frequently at odds with the firefighters' union, which was seeking to reform the department's promotion methods, pension system and staffing levels, city leaders commended him for an initiative he spearheaded to install free smoke detectors in homes citywide.

But most residents became familiar with McConnell, and his distinctive pushbroom mustache, after the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in October 2019. He supervised crews that secured the site from crumbling further and then removed the bodies of three construction workers killed by the building's failure, appearing on television numerous times to update the public on the efforts.

During Friday's retirement ceremony, McConnell said he looked forward to spending more time with his wife of 34 years as well as the rest of his family. But he said he would miss his colleagues.

"I've often stated publicly that I have the easiest job of any department head in the city," McConnell remarked. "That is only because of the incredible men and women who work within the New Orleans Fire Department. ... I'm very proud to have served at your side."

Nelson, like McConnell, was among 40 people from across the country to apply to succeed Parent as superintendent in 2013. The Brother Martin High School graduate will have the opportunity to keep the superintendent's job full-time, Cantrell said Friday, though the mayor noted that others would also be considered for NOFD's top position in the coming weeks.

"I commit to serving this city and this department with everything that I have," Nelson said.


(c)2020 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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