Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Friday nominated Battalion Chief Millage Peaks to be the city's new fire chief, replacing the retiring Douglas L. Barry, the department's first African American top commander.
If confirmed by the City Council, Peaks, who is also African American, will take over a department that has been struggling in recent years with allegations of hazing and racial unrest among firefighters.
The department has also made major budget cuts in the last few months that officials admit could reduce emergency response times, and contract talks between the mayor's office and a firefighters union appear headed for an impasse.
Villaraigosa made the announcement at a City Hall news conference, calling Peaks the "right man at the right time" to lead the department through tough fiscal times while ensuring that public safety remains its top priority.
The head of the firefighters union praised the choice, saying Peaks has strong support at firehouses across the city.
"It's a good step for the mayor, kind of a restart with rank-and-file firefighters," said Pat McOsker of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City. "We haven't been in agreement with everything lately, but we certainly are in agreement with his choice for fire chief."
Peaks supervised the internal inquiry into complaints filed in 2004 by firefighter Tennie Pierce, who later sued the city over a firehouse hazing incident. Pierce said a Latino and two white firefighters slipped dog food into his firehouse spaghetti.
Peaks called the incident "grave" and said his report on the investigation was altered by one of the department's top commanders. In 2006, Peaks told The Times that he may have urged more severe penalties against the accused firefighters but added that he couldn't say for sure because he did not know what became of his original report.