A veteran assistant chief has been selected as the first Latino to head the Los Angeles Fire Department by Mayor Eric Garcetti as it moves to address issues involving staff reductions, hiring of women and minorities, lagging response times and outdated technology.
The choice of Ralph M. Terrazas, a Los Angeles native who was raised in Wilmington, came after a nationwide search for a replacement for former Chief Brian Cummings, who retired in October under pressure from Garcetti, who made improving the LAFD a cornerstone of his successful campaign last year.
“I want to fight with the mayor to reform the Fire Department,” Terrazas said after he was introduced at a City Hall news conference called by the mayor.
Garcetti said Terrazas is the first Latino in the department’s 128-year history and “the best of insider and outsider” to lead the agency forward.
Terrazas, 54, has had a long career with the LAFD, working his way up through the agency. He has served in the department more than 30 years.
Terrazas, the 18th person to serve as chief, was recently a top commander overseeing fire responses in the southern section of the city. He previously was the head of the internal watchdog unit that investigates allegations of wrongdoing by firefighters.
Another top candidate for the job, interim Chief James G. Featherstone, was named interim chief by the mayor in November and was described as a temporary caretaker. His selection broke with a tradition of picking chiefs from within the top ranks of the LAFD. Featherstone served 20 years in the Fire Department, but only reached the mid-level rank of captain before leaving in 2007 to head the city's Emergency Management Department.
Recent LAFD chiefs have had short tenures, with three moving in and out of the office in the last eight years. The previous chief, Cummings, took an early retirement package after he failed to restore confidence in his administration following the admission that crucial statistics published by his office and used to build the case for budget cuts were faulty.