BRIDGEPORT — Fire Chief Brian Rooney, recently allowed to keep his provisional rank until a permanent chief is appointed, "made it clear" he would retire if he lost that status.

But he could have claimed that changing his title back to acting chief was unfair, based on precedent.

Meanwhile, the search for his successor has been extended another month to Dec. 12 to allow more applications for the job. Rooney has not returned a call seeking comment on whether he applied for the permanent job.

Rooney's attitude regarding his provisional status was disclosed in a recent memo from city Personnel Director Ralph Jacobs to the city's Civil Service Commission, covering numerous issues relating to the status.

The document is the latest development in the city's struggle with provisional status and decades of practice that critics say violates the city charter.

"I'm not looking to blame anyone for this problem. It has real, deep roots," Jacobs said.

After reviewing the memo, the commission extended Rooney's provisional status as chief. But Jacobs wrote in the note that he believes an extension would violate the charter.

Rooney was initially named acting chief in February, and had his salary raised before he became provisional chief in April.

If he returned to acting chief status, he would keep his pay raise, but could not retire at a chief's salary.

Rooney has 32 years with the Fire Department.

Returning Rooney to acting chief status would cause him to retire right away in order to preserve the higher pension he has as a provisional, according to the memo. Mayor John M. Fabrizi has confidence in Rooney, according to Jacobs.

"There is no certainty that any current employee would be willing to do the job," Jacobs stated in the memo. "The mayor's office has some uncertainty about who would actually be capable to do the job as well as Chief Rooney, and is very worried about this."

He added that, based on precedent, Rooney could "properly" challenge a change in rank.

"It is not the prevailing practice and not what he understood would be done," Jacobs wrote about returning Rooney to acting status.

He also feared that Rooney's status change would cause the department's remaining 32 provisional firefighters also to retire to save their pensions.

The provisional rank issue has already sparked problems in the Fire Department.

A position becomes provisional when a promotion test is not scheduled, but the job needs filling in order to maintain operations.

A provisional position must be rotated every 120 days, until an exam to fill the opening permanently is held, under the charter.

But most of the department's provisional firefighters have held the status beyond 120 days. Rooney was a provisional deputy chief for seven years before becoming acting chief after Michael Maglione left the post in January to become chief of Waterbury's Fire Department.

In a temporary fix, the Civil Service Commission halted any further provisional appointments until Jacobs sets up a rotation and testing plan for all provisional positions.

Meanwhile, Anthony Armeno will remain as the city's provisional police chief until a permanent leader is named for that department.

The search for police chief is closed at about 25 applicants, and 13 of the 26 fire chief applicants appear qualified for the job, Jacobs said. Some of the candidates come from city departments.

All applications had to be postmarked no later than Oct. 31, before the decision to extend the search for fire chief.