BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — James McPherson Jr.’s appointment to deputy fire chief this week is another step in a 28-year career that has included a few trials by fire.
“He’s a tried and proven commodity and leader,” Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. “He has had some significant events that have been a part of in his career, and he has risen to each and every one of them.”
McPherson, 53, will earn a salary of $99,052 as deputy chief.
McPherson’s family moved to the Woodvale neighborhood when he was 2, and his father still lives in the family home. McPherson joined the Danvers Fire Department in 1984. It was during his first year as a firefighter that the Henry Leather Co., one of the last big leather companies in Peabody, burned down in a massive fire, and he was one of those from area towns who responded.
He was a new lieutenant in 1990, he said, when 31 fires broke out in the Beaver Park neighborhood after the gas company over-pressurized the lines.
A captain since 1997, McPherson became acting fire chief in July when Chief Kevin Farrell was placed on leave due to issues stemming from a domestic incident and arrest at his estranged wife’s home in June. McPherson won Marquis’ praise for accepting the acting chief’s job at a difficult time for the department.
Charges against Farrell were dismissed in court, and after undergoing treatment, Farrell was medically cleared at the end of October to return full time to his duties as fire chief. McPherson returned to his job as captain. He also had applied for the deputy chief’s post. He underwent “a rigorous testing and interview process through an independent assessment center” as part of the selection process, Marquis said.
McPherson said his stint as acting chief helped with his transition to deputy.
McPherson’s career involves 22 years as a supervisor with progressively more responsibility, Marquis said. He described him as “well-respected among the employees in the department.”
As deputy chief, McPherson assumes the role of operations director running the day-to-day operations of the department, which has 49 firefighters, including the chief and a deputy chief. The department also has a civilian administrative assistant. McPherson now oversees four groups of firefighters, who are overseen by four captains. The deputy chief implements the department’s policies through those captains. In addition, he has oversight to make sure the vehicles are maintained properly, and that training and inspections are being performed. He also manages personnel and makes sure shifts are covered, among other things.
Marquis said the department anticipates that a captain will retire next year, which means that with McPherson’s promotion, there will be two captain’s vacancies to be filled.
McPherson is a 1977 graduate of Danvers High. He’s the middle child in a family of three, which includes his brother, Rick, and sister, Cindy Cianfrocca. His mother lives on Maple Street, he said. Growing up, McPherson worked with his father in a machinery moving business before joining the Fire Department. McPherson has an associate’s degree from North Shore Community College and is a certified EMT. He lives in town with his wife, Theresa, and is the father of two grown children.
McPherson said he loves being a firefighter.
“The camaraderie you have with the guys — you don’t find that anywhere,” he said. “It’s like a second family. It’s been a great job for me.”
In 2011, McPherson earned $105,765, including about $16,000 in overtime and detail pay. He will actually earn less as a deputy chief, since a deputy chief does not get the additional stipends that captains receive.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.