By Karen Cortés
Casares introduced Firestat, a management tool that examines performance data, allowing the department to find ways to improve and acknowledge success. Working with department heads and command staff, Casares monitors response times, number of inspections performed, the types of calls, and loss time. “It’s a team concept,” says Casares. “We take an honest look at our performance. Instead of having others measure, we count our own beans.”
When the Firestat model was first introduced, the department was responding to calls within four minutes just 58% of the time. Within a month, that number soared to 92%.
Another improvement for the department? Casares notes the department’s diversity. Casares is the city’s first Latino chief and he says that his workforce reflects the makeup of the population the department serves. In the past, employment interviews were being conducted by outsiders. Today, with the cooperation of labor organizations, Hartford department members, who Casares says better understand the needs of the community, are evaluating prospective employees.
Casares joined the department in 1980 as one of its first Spanish-speaking officers, a year after the death of 12-year-old Julio Lozada. The tragedy marked the disparity between the racial makeup of the department and the community it served. There were no Spanish-speaking fire personnel on scene who could communicate with neighbors the day the boy died, trapped in a building collapse.
A longtime Hartford resident, Casares attended Hartford High School, but dropped out before graduating. He earned a GED prior to joining the department, and graduated from Goodwin College with an Associates of Science Degree in Homeland Security before becoming chief. Today, he is just a semester away from completing a Bachelors of Fire Science from Columbia Southern University. “I have over 30 years experience, but the credibility of a degree was missing from my resume,” says Casares. “It’s up to me to continue my education.”
The department is pursuing international accreditation, a labor-intensive process that examines some 270 performance measures. Once complete, the City of Hartford Fire Department will be the 13th in the U.S. to be designated Class I and hold international accreditation.
In the coming months, Casares will see his department move into the City of Hartford’s new public safety complex, which will house all the public safety divisions for the City of Hartford including fire, ambulance and police facilities.
While Casares and his wife Ines had intended to retire together (she put in her last day of work in April), he says that he’s glad he decided to stay. “Our life changed dramatically,” says Casares, as he reflects on his tenure as chief. “I don’t want to be a superstar, I just hope in the end, I end well.”
Casares is a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Latin American Section and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He is an Instructor at the Dr. Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute held at Dillard University, New Orleans, LA. He previously served as commissioner and chairman of the Hartford Redevelopment Agency, and has served on The Julio Lozada Park renewal project. Casares currently serves on The Salvation Army Advisory Board, Goodwin College Board of Trustees, and its Homeland Security Criminal Justice Program Advisory Board, CREC Public Safety Academy Advisory Board, and Leadership Greater Hartford Board of Directors.