Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

LAFD veteran sworn in as city's 1st black chief

Douglas R. Barry, who has been with the department
for 32 years, says he'll implement reform.

Staff Writer

Setting a broad agenda for reform, Douglas R. Barry was sworn in Tuesday as Los Angeles' 23rd fire chief and the first black person to head the department.

Barry, 54, was sworn in by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a plaza across from City Hall after receiving unanimous support from the City Council. Barry has been interim chief since December when Chief William Bamattre retired.

"In Douglas Barry, we have the right man at the right time to take this department forward with the reforms it needs," said Villaraigosa, who convinced Barry to take the post.

The department has long been at the center of controversy with dozens of lawsuits alleging sexual and racial harassment. The union representing 3,500 firefighters and paramedics also has been at odds with the LAFD administration.

In the most notorious of the incidents, former firefighter Tennie Pierce was awarded $2.7 million after an investigation found he was fed dog food in a firehouse prank.

While Villaraigosa last year vetoed the deal, Pierce and city officials are negotiating a possible new settlement.

"This is a special day in my life and the life of the Fire Department," Barry said after taking the oath of office with his wife, Roberta, at his side.

Barry, who will be paid $258,000 a year, has been with the LAFD for 32 years. He was scheduled to retire next July but said he is looking to stay on in the post.

"As I begin my tenure, I do so with a great deal of pride," Barry said. "The Fire Department has a rich history. It is my charge to build on what they have done to lead the department to greater heights.

"I recognize we have many challenges. In the coming days, the department will be tested."

Barry said he believes he will be able to succeed - despite his predecessors' failures - because of the support he has from Villaraigosa, the City Council and employee unions.

Barry, who has visited 60 of the city's 110 fire stations since his temporary appointment, said he is trying to deliver a consistent message.

"What I'm hearing is that they want more authority at the station level," Barry said. "We give a lot of responsibility to our captains, but they don't have the responsibility. ? One of the things I'm emphasizing is the expectations of them ? that harassment and hazing are not acceptable."

Steve Tufts of United Firefighters of Los Angeles praised the appointment.

"I think it was a long time coming," Tufts said. "We needed a change to have someone in charge that we have trust with. We want to work with him to get morale up and improve relations."

Councilman Bernard Parks, who also rose through the ranks to become the city's second black police chief, took note of the historic appointment.

"I'm not sure people appreciate what this means," Parks said. "As I used to say at the Police Department years ago that the only time people talked about future leaders, minorities were never even under consideration.

"That this is occurring today is something that people should step back and realize how significant it is."


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