City Names FBI Unit Chief As New Public Safety Director

Dec 30, 2015

The city named FBI supervisor and Forest Hills native Wendell Hissrich as its next public safety director on Wednesday. Hissrich, 53, is slated to begin Jan. 11 overseeing Pittsburgh's Office of Emergency Management, police, fire, Emergency Medical Services and animal control bureaus.
Credit City of Pittsburgh

Mayor Bill Peduto tapped Forest Hills native Wendell Hissrich to oversee Pittsburgh's public safety bureaus, officials announced Wednesday.

"It's a dream come true," Hissrich said.  "It brings together the police, fire and EMS that I've done for the last 30-some years, and it brings me back home."

Hissrich, 53, has spent a quarter century with the FBI overseeing joint law enforcement services with public safety agencies across the nation, city spokesman Tim McNulty said. Hissrich returns next week to Pittsburgh from Alexandria, Va., where he served as the chief of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Operations Response Unit at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

He replaces former Public Safety Director Stephen A. Bucar, who left in September to become deputy commissioner of staff with the Pennsylvania State Police. Acting Public Safety Director Michael Huss will return to his role as assistant director of the department, McNulty said.

“Wendell Hissrich brings back to Pittsburgh not only a close knowledge of our city, but experience working with agencies across the country to keep our nation safe," Peduto said in a statement. "Both Pittsburgh’s residents and its public safety personnel are lucky to welcome him back.”

Previous to joining the FBI in 1990, Hissrich was a Pittsburgh paramedic and crew chief for five years. He is a 1984 graduate of Duquesne University and a current life member of the Forest Hills Volunteer Fire Department.  

He said he still goes out on fire calls when he visits his parents.

"I ran two calls as recently as Sunday," he said.

As public safety director, he will oversee the city’s Office of Emergency Management; the police, fire, Emergency Medical Services and animal control bureaus; and related community outreach programs.  

"You hear about the bad stuff law enforcement does," he said. "It's always at the top of the news story. I want to exemplify the good work the men and women of the public safety department do."

Hissrich said Police Chief Cameron McLay laid the groundwork to build trust between police and the minority community "to strengthen the relationship with (Pittsburgh) communities.

"There should be no boundaries when it comes to public safety," he said.

McNulty said Hissrich has managed federal, state and local public safety agency coordination on events including Pope Francis’s visit this summer to Philadelphia; letters laced with Ricin sent to President Obama and members of Congress in 2013; an Ebola case at a Dallas hospital; the discovery of smallpox and other biological agents at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.; a train derailment resulting in the release of chlorine gas in Graniteville, S.C.; and hazardous response planning for the 2006 MLB All-Star Game at PNC Park, Super Bowls, presidential inaugurations and other large events.

His nomination is subject to approval by City Council, and his salary is $112,500. He's slated to begin Jan. 11.

Hissrich's full resume is available here.