The highest-ranking woman in the history of the Los Angeles Fire Department has announced her retirement, leaving no female officers among the agency’s top command staff of deputy and assistant chiefs.
The departure of Deputy Chief Roxanne V. Bercik comes as the department is struggling to hire and promote more women after a string of large city payouts for alleged sexual discrimination in the ranks.
Bercik, 55, had been a leading advocate for recruiting and promoting more female firefighters.
“I’ve been the voice at the command level that diversity is important in the organization,” said Bercik, a 29-year veteran and the first woman to climb through the upper ranks of the agency.
Details on the department’s first class of firefighter recruits in five years were released Monday, prompting a new round of disapproval from Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is in the process of selecting a new fire chief. The class is made up of 69 men and one woman and is more white and less Latino and African American than the city and the department as a whole. Garcetti called the lack of diversity unacceptable.
Bercik said she made her retirement plans known internally at the LAFD late last year. She said her decision was not related to the department’s record on recruitment or news about the new class of recruits. For women, she said, “The road has been forged, but it has yet to be paved.”
As of last July, the department’s four other deputy chiefs and 17 assistant chiefs were all men, city records show. The department has never had a female chief.
Department Chief of Staff Ronnie Villanueva, an assistant chief, said there now are five female battalion chiefs. Bercik, who will leave the department Jan. 31, “wanted to spend time with family and enjoy retirement,” he said.
“We have other women who are moving up in the ranks that I’m sure are going to be filling her shoes very soon,” he said.
Fewer than 3% of all LAFD firefighters are women, the same proportion as 20 years ago.
Last year, the city agreed to pay $325,000 to the department’s first black female firefighter, d’Lisa Davies, who alleged she suffered firehouse discrimination over two decades. The legal settlement requires the LAFD to let Davies use its equipment and training facilities — as an off-duty volunteer — to prepare a diverse group of potential recruits for the rigorous firefighter hiring exams.
The settlement also called for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to more closely monitor the department’s anti-discrimination training for firefighters and supervisors.