Posted: 09/11/2009 02:33:56 PM PDT
|Chief Millage Peaks to head the 3,500-member Los Angeles Fire Department. (Dean Musgrove/Staff Photographer)|
The Los Angeles City Council on Friday approved the appointment of Millage Peaks - described as a firefighter's firefighter - as the city's next fire chief.
Peaks, 56, educated at two South Bay colleges, is a 33-year veteran of the department and the second African-American to head the agency. He said he hoped "to be the best chief in Fire Department history" and continue efforts to end the department's negative reputation for hazing and racism.
"We have had a zero-tolerance policy and that will not end," Peaks told the City Council during a hearing on his appointment.
Peaks will replace Chief Douglas Barry of Rancho Palos Verdes, who took over the department two years ago at the height of controversy over hazing accusations involving former firefighter Tennie Pierce. Pierce won a $1.2 million lawsuit against the city with his accusations of hazing after fellow firefighters in Westchester put dog food in his meal.
Councilmen Bernard Parks and Herb Wesson, both black, took note of Peaks' accomplishment in working his way up through the ranks to become chief.
"There was a time when this wasn't possible," said Parks, who also served as police chief.
Wesson said Peaks was coming on at a difficult time for the department and the city.
"It's easy to do a good job when times are good and money is plentiful," Wesson said. "You are coming on at a time of challenges when you could have just as easily retired."
The department has been working to save $50 million and has implemented a rotating schedule of brownouts, reducing its field forces by 87 firefighters each day.
There still is no contract with the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City and its dispute with the city has escalated.
But UFLAC President Pat McOsker endorsed Peaks, saying he has the support of the rank-and-file.
Peaks said he hopes to work with the union and develop plans that would resolve the staffing problems as he looks to modernize the department and make it more efficient.
"We have had the same business model for more than 100 years," Peaks said. "I hope to look at it to make the department more efficient and make sure we protect all the people in our stations and the public."
He also said he wants to see more community outreach with the public to bring in more recruits - particularly women and gays - to make the department better reflect the city at large.
The LAFD has more than 3,000 firefighters operating with an annual budget of about $500 million. The salary for Peaks has not been set, but the range for it is $193,432 to $290,023.
Peaks, born in Berkeley, received an associate degree from El Camino College and a bachelor's degree in psychology from California State University, Dominguez Hills, in Carson.
Peaks has a wide range of experience in the department beyond the front line duties of firefighters.
He served as employee relations officer dealing with labor matters and as part of an investigative team created in 1995 to look at allegations of mistreatment of female recruits.
He broke ranks with that team's findings, saying he believed women were mistreated within the department.
Peaks served as chief of staff to former Chief Bill Bamattre for one year and has held a variety of executive jobs within the department, including planning section commander, operations chief executive officer and, most recently, battalion chief in the West Los Angeles area.
As such, he supervised fire stations in Los Angeles International Airport, Westchester, Venice and Mar Vista. He also also oversaw the planning, design and construction of LAX Fire Station 80.
Peaks is married and has four adult children.