"We waited so long for a fire commissioner," said Tom O'Connor, president of San Francisco Firefighters Local 798. "Having a new person there will bring in a new perspective to the commission where they can look at the problem with a fresh set of eyes."
Alioto Veronese said the Fire Department needs to improve ambulance response times and do a better job of caring for firefighters going through mental health problems. And the city has to find ways to keep emergency crews from being priced out of San Francisco, he added.
"The closer we can keep our first responders, the better off we are if there's a natural disaster," he said, adding that he wants to work with other city agencies to give Fire Department employees priority on new affordable housing.
The appointment was made under the radar. There was no announcement from the mayor's office, no Board of Supervisors hearing, and even at his first meeting two weeks ago, Alioto Veronese's name was not on the agenda.
Nevertheless, Mayor Lee spread vocal praise on the new commissioner.
"Joe Alioto Veronese's exemplary public service makes him an ideal candidate for the Fire Commission," Lee said in a statement.
"As police commissioner he worked to make the department more transparent and more accountable to communities. His experience will be an asset to the Fire Department and I am grateful for his willingness to serve on the Commission and work with Chief Hayes-White and the dedicated men and women of the SFFD to protect and ensure the safety of our residents," the statement read.
The mayor controls the picks for the Fire Commission, and a Board of Supervisors hearing would be held on his appointment only if a supervisor calls for one. It doesn't look that's happened yet.
London Breed, president of the board, in the past has called for Chief Hayes-White to be removed and floated the idea of chipping away at the mayor's power over the commission.
Breed praised the choice, but noted the need for reform.
"I hope with Joe on the Fire Commission it will take a stronger hand in holding the department leadership accountable for various challenges that have plagued the department in recent years, such as staffing deficiencies, low morale and unacceptable emergency response times," Breed said in a statement. "We need an active Fire Commission and Joe is a welcome addition."
On the new commissioner Breed and Hayes-White see eye to eye.