LYNN — History was made in the city on Tuesday night as Stephen Archer, a 25-year veteran of the Lynn Fire Department, was sworn in as fire chief.
“It’s an honor,” Archer said. “It’s a huge honor to be able to be chief of this department, a department with a long, proud history. I consider it a tremendous opportunity to be able to be chief here.”
Archer, 54, has climbed the ranks, starting with the department in 1993 as a firefighter, and seeing promotions to a lieutenant in 1999, captain in 2002, and a bump to district fire chief in 2012.
On Tuesday night in the City Council chambers at City Hall that were packed with his family, friends and colleagues, Archer was sworn in as the first African-American fire chief in the city’s history.
He is also the first African-American department head in the history of Lynn, according to City Council vice-president and former Lynn firefighter Buzzy Barton.
“I don’t want to get caught up in talking about he’s the first this and he’s the first that because I know the route he had to go,” said Barton. “Being a former firefighter myself, I know how hard it is to become chief of a fire department, and going in, he has the respect of his men because he went up through the ranks and he was not afraid to get his hands dirty on the way going up the ladder.”
Archer said becoming the first African-American chief is not something that he focuses on, but recognizes its importance in the community.
“I do realize that it has an impact on the young men and women of color in the community,” he said. “I know that having a chief they can identify with has an impact on them and it can serve to encourage the young people in this community that they can achieve their goals in life. I’m aware of that. It gives me even more incentive to do the absolute best that I can in my job. I want to be an example for them.”
He said the example he’s taken is from some of the black firefighters who served before him who have since retired, guys like Barton, Kenny Turner, Larry Pitcher and Kevin Bradley, among others. He said those men set a great example for him because of the way they carried themselves and he owes them a huge debt of gratitude.
Archer was the top scorer among four candidates for the $100,000-plus a year post. He was selected by MMA Consulting Group Inc., a Plymouth company, which provides an Assessment Center comprised of an expert panel that interviews candidates. The eight-hour interview asks their responses to real-life situations, grades them, and recommends the top candidate to the mayor.
Archer replaces former Fire Chief James McDonald, who retired last month after more than 40 years of service to the city. McDonald was on hand to watch Archer be sworn in.
Archer took time during his ceremony to thank his wife of 24 years, Susan, whom he called his rock, someone who has been there for him through thick and thin. He also spoke about the support of his four children, Langston, Marin, Camille, and Preston.
He also thanked his fellow firefighters, calling Lynn’s department one of the best anywhere, which has the ability and skills to be even better, and acknowledged Barton, who he said believed in him and “saw this day I believe before I saw this day.”
“It takes a lot of work to get here but nobody does it alone,” said Archer. “It takes a lot of support and encouragement of people behind you who have been there.”
Archer said being a firefighter wasn’t originally a career aspiration. The former union electrician switched careers at the urging of his younger brother, Graham, a captain with the Swampscott Fire Department. He joined the Lynn fire department when he was 29.
“He encouraged me to take the test and apply and the rest is history,” Archer said. “I grew to love the job. A lot of people told me what a great job it was and they were absolutely right. I love my city. It’s an ideal way to serve the city and do a job I really, really love.”
Archer was born in Cambridge, but grew up in Lynn after moving to the city as a young child. He attended Lynn Vocational Technical Institute and went to school at North Shore Community College. He got his bachelor’s degree from Anna Maria College and is working toward his master’s in public administration at the same school.
When he was hired with the department in 1993, he went to the Massachusetts Fire Academy, came back and was signed with Engine 5 initially.
Archer said his goal is to move the department forward to be a progressive, modern 21st century fire department providing the very best in fire, rescue and emergency services to the citizens. An immediate goal is to revise and revamp the department’s standard operating procedures to make sure the department can use the best standards and practices that it needs in the industry today.
He also wants to see the department improve its ISO, or insurance service office rating, which sets the insurance rates for residents in the community — the fire department’s rating is currently at a 3 and improving its ISO rating will have an effect on what residents pay for insurance.
“Anything we can do to improve that is a benefit to the community as a whole,” said Archer. “Basically, we’re going to be looking at everything we do in terms of fire protection for the city and any ways that we can improve it, we’re going to make those improvements. We’ve got a lot of bright, capable, talented people in this fire department. We’re going to put our heads together to do the best we can for the city.”
Mayor Thomas M. McGee said he was excited about the opportunity to work with Archer.
“It’s a big night,” McGee said. “It’s an exciting time for the community. He’s the best guy for the job. He’s been a leader from the day he came on the force. He’s shown that and I know he’s going to be a great leader for the community and for the force moving forward.”