Our next fire chief

So here’s the Merry-Go-Round’s question to the self-proclaimed “progressives” on Council like Vice Mayor Malia Vella and Councilman Jim Oddie:

If you’re truly as committed to the goal of diversity as you tell your supporters you are, what are you doing to get the City to hire a woman, and/or a person of color, as its next fire chief?

The top job in the fire department became open last Friday when Doug Long retired after having held the position for about two-and-a-half years.  (His predecessor as chief, Mike D’Orazi, served just three years.)

Under the City Charter, City Manager Jill Keimach has the power and the duty to pick Chief Long’s replacement – and the Charter prohibits any Council member from “interfer[ing] with the execution by the City Manager of his or her powers and duties.”  Nevertheless, Ms. Vella, in particular, has shown scant regard for such legal niceties, and there is no reason to doubt that she (and her sidekick, Mr. Oddie) will want to have their say in this decision as well.

To what end is the issue.

Chief Hayes-White

Chief Terrazas

Unlike San Francisco, where a woman (Joanne Hayes-White) has served as fire chief since 2004, Alameda never has had a female fire chief.  And unlike Oakland, whose fire department was led by an African-American woman (Teresa Deloach Reed) from 2012 until her retirement this year, or Los Angeles, which promoted a Hispanic deputy fire chief (Ralph Terrazas) to the top job in 2014, Alameda never has had a person of color as fire chief, either.

Chief Reed

Chief Reed was not the first African-American fire chief in Oakland, where Samuel Golden held that job from 1981 through 1986.  Nor was she the first black woman fire chief in the Bay Area.  That distinction belongs to Debra Pryor, who served as fire chief in Berkeley from 2004 through 2012.

Elsewhere in the state, Fresno selected a female fire chief – Kerri Donis – in 2014, and Woodland appointed a woman – Rebecca Ramirez – as fire chief in 2017.  In addition, three African-American men now lead the fire departments in their localities:  Daryl Osby, appointed fire chief in Los Angeles County in 2011; Michael D. Moore, appointed fire chief in Riverside in 2014, and Erik Newman, appointed fire chief in Stockton in 2015.

It’s surely not unreasonable to expect that the local politicians who take such pride in proclaiming their “progressive” values will do all they can to ensure that Alameda no longer lags behind other cities in the Bay Area and around the state.

At present, the diversity of the Alameda fire department leaves something . . . well, we’ll let the data tell the story.

As reported by the City to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this is the demographic breakdown for the department as a whole:

Fire Department demographics

The AFD’s sworn personnel thus are 84.95% white and 95.88% male.  By contrast, according to the latest American Community Survey, the population of the City of Alameda – i.e., the residents whom the fire department serves – is only 55.2% white.   And the majority of Alamedans are women.

What’s more, supervision and management in the fire department lies largely in the hands of white males.  All five division chiefs are white men.  Of the 22 captains, two are white women, and 14 of the remaining 20 are white men.  (Three male captains are Asian, two are Hispanic, and one is African-American.)

We would hope we wouldn’t need to argue the case to our elected officials for promoting diversity in the fire department.  But we don’t have to, because a far more authoritative organization – the International Association of Firefighters, i.e., the national firefighters’ union – has done it for us.

Back in 2006, the IAFF undertook what it called a “diversity initiative” and published an explanatory report.  “Many arguments can be made for why we should place emphasis on increasing diversity,” the report stated.  It continued:

In the literature review of this report, various researchers explore the business, financial, and legal reasons for supporting diversity.  In the Fire Service, in addition to all the practical issues related to diversity, there are also strong social and emotional reasons.  The Fire Service serves each and every community member, regardless of ethnicity, gender, race, background, economy, or any other factor, and also depends on the entire community and country for its funding and support.  As public safety and public service organizations, most Fire Departments want to better understand, communicate with, and enlist cooperation in our multi-cultural communities.

Hiring a woman, and/or a person of color, as Alameda’s next fire chief necessarily would strike a blow for diversity.  But it also would break the recent practice of giving the job to a white male backed by the Alameda firefighters’ union who serves for a couple of years and then retires with a pension equal to 90 per cent of the salary he made as chief.

Chief D’Orazi

The practice began in 2011 after the union forced the resignation of fire chief David Kapler, who had worked with the City administration in an attempt to rein in fire department costs.  To replace Chief Kapler, newly hired City Manager John Russo selected Michael D’Orazi, who had been the president of, and chief negotiator for, IAFF Local 689 from 1986 through 2007.

Not surprisingly, the firefighters’ union was delighted with the choice. “We’re very happy,” Domenick Weaver, the union president (and then, as now, an Alameda fire captain), was quoted as saying in a news story announcing the hire. “D’Orazi has a good knowledge of the fire service, he has an institutional knowledge, and also has the support and buy-in of our membership.”

Mr. D’Orazi (we’re using “Mr.” as the honorific because of the various job titles involved) had retired from the fire department as a captain in 2007.  Upon retirement, he was entitled to a pension based on the standard CalPERS formula for public-safety pension plans:  total years of service (up to a maximum of 30), times 3% per year, times “final compensation” (i.e., the highest average annual compensation during any consecutive 12-month period).  For example, a firefighter who worked for 25 years and made $200,000 in his last year would get a $150,000 a year pension.

When Mr. D’Orazi retired the first time, he had accumulated 27.62 years of service – fewer than three years short of the 30 years needed to obtain the maximum pension – and his “final compensation” was based on a captain’s pay.  Unfortunately, there is no publicly available data on the exact amount of the pension he was getting before he returned to lead the department, but it is unlikely that it exceeded $125,000.

Mr. D’Orazi’s tenure as fire chief lasted from December 19, 2011, through December 26, 2014, when he again retired.  These three years enabled him to reach the 30-year threshold.  Moreover, when he retired this time, his “final compensation” was based on the fire chief’s pay, not, as previously, on the salary of a captain.  (In 2014, his third and last year as fire chief, Mr. D’Orazi was paid $221,875.44; his total compensation, including benefits, was $325,405.72.)

Mr. D’Orazi appears to be reaping the financial benefits of having ended his career with three years as fire chief.  For 2015, the year after his second retirement, he received a $185,335.44 pension; last year, his pension was $199,262.40.  (These numbers do not include the value of the retiree health benefits Mr. D’Orazi also is getting.)

After Mr. D’Orazi retired, history repeated itself.

Chief Long

In April 2015, Mr. Russo selected Douglas Long, who had been deputy chief under Mr. D’Orazi, as the new fire chief.  We didn’t see any contemporaneous press release from the firefighters’ union, but IAFF Local 689’s current president, Jeff DelBono, praised Mr. Long this week for his “solid leadership for our department throughout his career, and especially as fire chief.”

At the time he was appointed to the top job, Mr. Long had 26.86 years of service with the department, a little more than three years short of the 30 years needed to obtain the maximum pension.  His tenure as fire chief lasted from April 19, 2015 to September 23, 2017, a period of about 2.4 years.

Mr. Long thus retired with close to 30 years of service, and service credits for unused sick leave may have brought him up to the threshold.  In any event, his pension will be based on his “final compensation” as fire chief.  In 2016, the last (and only) full year he held that position, Mr. Long was paid $239,726; his total compensation, including benefits, was $363,665.

Now to the present.  For all we know, there may a current fire department employee, backed by or at least acceptable to the firefighters’ union, who could get a significant bump in his pension by serving an additional couple of years in the role of fire chief, especially if he already has boosted his service credits by purchasing “air time” attributable to a stint with a non-Alameda fire department.

But why should that matter?  After all, any Council member who might seek to influence the selection of our next fire chief presumably will be motivated by commitment to the principles of progressivism (like diversity), not by devotion to the preferences of the public safety unions.

Right, Ms. Vella and Mr. Oddie?


Transparent California provides a database with salary and pension information.

At our request, City Human Resources Director Nancy Bronstein provided publicly available data on demographics and years of service.

This is full IAFF Diversity Initiative report: IAFF Diversity Report

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
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5 Responses to Our next fire chief

  1. Tawney says:

    Please keep this up……… valuable information

  2. Steve Gerstle says:

    It is ironic that firefighters seek to influence who is on the city council, but the city council has no influence as to who is the fire chief. At minimum, the public should get to meet and interact with the finalists for the city’s top positions, including city manager, police chief, fire chief, director of public works, etc. We should have more say in the matter than we do over who becomes the Queen of England or the Pope.

    As for firefighter diversity, few of them live here, so we would we expect the fire department to have a similar ethnic diversity to Alameda? In terms of ethnic diversity, the fire department is a close match for the population of Orinda.

    • dave says:

      In terms of ethnic diversity, the fire department is a close match for the population of Orinda


      IAFF membership has higher median income than Orinda 🙂

  3. Brian Kennedy says:

    Diversity?!? Who cares what the applicants gender or skin color is? Californians voted out that race/gender nonsense with the passage of Prop. 209 in 1996. The only issue is that of qualification for the position. No one cares what their race or gender is.

  4. Georges says:

    There is a simple solution , in order to avoid any personal conflict of interest no Fire Chief may come within the rank of the city of Alameda ……It is done with the APD , No one say anything .
    By the way in case you did not know the City manager has more power than the Mayor , this after massive corruption in the 1930 the mayor was forced to resign .
    Let’s reflect what the City is .
    Incidentally there are countless Veterans which are going by scrapping the bottom , they have served with honor the USA , Some are REAL Captain not some puppet which give each other rank .
    Should the Idea not be of the liking of these gentlemen , they are free to leave .

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