Los Angeles Fire Department swears in new fire chief

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LAFD Assistant Chief Ralph Terrazas is the new fire chief. (Thinkstock)

Los Angeles Fire Department Assistant Chief Ralph Terrazas was sworn into office as the new fire chief on Friday, following the City Council’s unanimous support of his appointment.

“Today we take a very important step forward in building … the Los Angeles Fire Department of the future,” Garcetti said just before leading Terrazas in the oath of office and clipping onto his uniform a badge denoting his new rank.


“We have a new chief today who will lead the way in cutting response times, improving technology and bringing reform to the LAFD,” he said.

Terrazas “is taking the helm at a critical point in our city’s history,” Garcetti said, just as “we’re on our way to making sure the Los Angeles Fire Department is the best-managed and the most cutting-edge in the nation.”

The mayor also noted that Terrazas appointment will end a pattern of high turnover in the chief’s job.

“This will not be a revolving door chief-ship anymore,” he said.

The council voted 14-0 to approve the appointment of the 31-year LAFD veteran, whom Garcetti nominated after a months-long nationwide search for a person to lead a department with more than 3,200 sworn personnel and nearly 300 civilian employees.

The department shed about 600 firefighters and paramedics during the past five years after the city froze hiring, and only starting adding staff again this year. The department graduated 58 firefighters and paramedics in June and is getting ready to train another 165.

Councilman Mitch Englander said the city was looking for “a leader to rebuild” what he called a “decimated” department. Officials did not “have to look too far,” he said.

“We found a natural leader in the rubble, if you will,” he said.

In a statement to the council, members of the department and the public, Terrazas said he will be dedicating his efforts toward  “transforming your LAFD into a metrics-driven, technology-focused, community-focused organization that is reflective of the communities that we serve.”

Terrazas, 54, told a city council committee earlier today his top three priorities are to improve response times, restore resources to a department has lost hundreds of staff in the past five years, and diversify the firefighter and paramedic ranks.

He proposed bringing back a “female tutorial program” — a program that he led in the 1990s — that seeks out female college athletes and grooms them to succeed in the recruitment process by putting them through physical training in the gym and tutoring them on the written and oral exams.

Many of the current female fire captains benefited from the program, he said.

Terrazas also said he wants to set up a high school fire academy similar to one already used by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Councilwoman Nury Martinez praised Terrazas, saying he possesses the “common sense solutions and experience to give him the leadership edge necessary to guide the Los Angeles Fire Department into their next era.”

She also noted that with “only three percent of firefighters are women,” Terrazas “has shown a commitment to recruiting, supporting and mentoring female cadets that represent half the population and will be an asset to creating long lasting success for the entire department.”

Terrazas will also oversee a plan to revamp the way the department is managed; the development of FIRESTAT, which will use data to look at trends in emergency calls and determine how to deploy firefighters and reduce response times; and a new recruitment process being created in conjunction with Rand Corp.

Terrazas established the department’s Professional Standards Division, and the mayor said he was instrumental in securing the passage of Proposition F, a $532 million bond to finance building of 19 fire stations.

His salary will be $292,424 a year, according to the mayor’s office.

Former Fire Chief Brian Cummings announced his retirement last October, several months after the mayor asked all city department heads to re-apply for their jobs.

Cummings, whose tenure was marred by questions about the department’s response times, had been with the department since February 1980 and was appointed chief in September 2011 by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

James Featherstone, the general manager of the Emergency Management Department at the time, was named Cummings’ temporary replacement, and he was vying for the full-time LAFD post.

Frank Lima, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, the union representing LAFD firefighters, has noted that the union has sometimes disagreed with Terrazas on major policy issues, but said today he is “proud” to support the new chief’s appointment.

“We welcome him as our leader and are hopeful that this department will regain some continuity and consistency with this appointment, and we are looking forward to a strong working relationship with the chief,” he said.

Terrazas said he wants to treat employees as “equal partners” by setting up weekly meetings with UFLAC and other fire department employee associations.