L.A. County’s acting fire chief gets the job permanently

The Los Angeles County board of directors on Tuesday selected acting fire chief Anthony C. Marrone to fill the post permanently after some firefighting groups urged supervisors to look outside the agency for a more diverse pool of candidates.

The Board of Directors voted unanimously in closed session to ask the CEO to enter into contract negotiations with Marrone. The appointment is expected to be finalized in a vote next week.

The impending hiring has frustrated some of the department’s female and minority firefighters, who said they expected supervisors to look beyond the department’s top echelons — a echelon of the department long dominated by white men.

“I’m sure it will come as a shock to everyone in the department,” said fire medic Johnny Gray III, president of the LA County Stentorians, a group that works with other underrepresented groups to advocate for black firefighters. “No one saw it aired to the rest of the county to maybe apply for it. I don’t think the department as a whole knew this was happening.”

The presidents of the Stentorians, Women’s Fire League and Los Bomberos de LA County sent a letter to the board ahead of Tuesday’s vote saying the board should conduct a national search for a new chief within the next three months.

“This action is critical to ensuring equity in hiring and promotion at a department that has been fighting for decades,” the letter said. “If internal promotion is the only path to leadership, that pattern will continue forever. The department is currently facing numerous allegations of harassment, retaliation, discrimination, racism and intimidation.”

The district fire brigade is one of the busiest in the country and serves around 4 million residents. It responds to emergencies in all unincorporated parts of the county, as well as around 60 cities that have contracted with the agency.

Since its inception, the department has remained largely white and male. The board appointed the department’s first black chief—Daryl L. Osby—in 2011. No woman has held the top post.

When Osby resigned last summer after 11 years, supervisors appointed Marrone, a department veteran, as acting manager while they searched for permanent employment.

In a brief interview, Marrone touted his decades of experience within the department and 11 years on the department’s leadership team. Marrone, who joined the department in 1986, said he successfully navigated it through two deaths on duty, the rise of the Omicron coronavirus and, as of Monday night, the safe return of the county’s urban search and rescue team, which was deployed to Turkey after the deadly earthquakes this month.

Like the letter’s authors, he believes the department needs to do more to elevate firefighters who rarely make it to the top ranks.

“People of color and women have made great strides under Chief Osby’s 11 years of leadership,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process. There’s more to do. I think I’m prepared and have all the skills needed to fight this fight.”

Marrone is supported by Los Angeles County Fire Fighters Local 1014, the union representing about 3,400 of the county’s firefighters. Union President David Gillotte wrote to the board last week that the department had “gone to hell and back in recent years” and needed a permanent leader to boost morale. Gillotte urged the board to make Marrone permanent “immediately.”

But minority groups within the fire service said they needed a leader who would make it a priority to fight what they say is persistent sexism and racism within the department. Some have questioned whether Marrone is that person.

Gray said he keeps hearing derogatory remarks made about black firefighters. A few years ago, he said, he spoke to a black firefighter who told Gray that a white crew called him the N-word backwards every time they passed. Gray, who has been with the department for 12 years, said he heard from another black firefighter this month who was called the same racial slur.

“There are instances where people openly use the n-word,” Gray said. “There are definitely situations that still happen — and it’s 2023. I don’t think we’ll ever completely get rid of it.”

Gray spoke to a reporter Tuesday as he drove to the funeral of Hershel Clady, a pioneering black firefighter who was the first to be promoted within the department. Clady, who joined the force in 1969, rose through the ranks of the department despite opposition from his peers and supervisors. According to an interview he gave with The Times in the 1990s, he once opened his locker to find a snake. In order to be promoted further, he had to repeatedly sue the county.

“It’s just ironic. He’d be turning in his grave at what’s happening,” Gray said. “He’s fought all these years, he’s been in court all these years — and some of the same things continue to this day.”

Supervisor and CEO Janice Hahn said she takes these concerns seriously.

“We are far behind other departments in hiring women and that needs to change,” Hahn said in a statement. “I promise to work with the next boss to not only make sure we hire more women and people of color as firefighters in the department, but that everyone gets an equal chance at promotions and opportunities.”

Supervisor Hilda Solis said she trusts the new boss to make addressing a lack of diversity within the department a priority.

“The vote should say something, right?” she said. “We felt this individual was capable of handling the challenges this department has faced over the past two and a half and three years.”

The Los Angeles Fire Department was plagued by similar problems. The Times reported in 2021 on the experiences of female firefighters who said they endured a “fraternity house culture” in which women and minority firefighters said they were routinely bullied. At the time, women made up 3.5% of sworn personnel, although then-Mayor Eric Garcetti had aimed for 5% or more.

Advocates of female and minority firefighters said they believe the county’s numbers are even worse, with less emphasis on recruiting women and people of color. A district spokesman said the district does not have a racial and gender breakdown of firefighter demographics and is taking time to compile it.

Kris Larson, the first black assistant chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department, said the county’s problems are “100% the same” as the city’s. The only difference, she said, is that the county department isn’t under as much scrutiny.

“I’m surprised they haven’t been studied more closely,” said Larson, a founding member of Equity on Fire, a nonprofit dedicated to making West Coast fire departments more inclusive. “I think with a board that’s all women, they should ask some tough questions.”

Larson said she believes the LA County process was “shut down and rushed” and asked if Marrone, who did not have a college degree, qualified, a complex department with an operating budget of around $1.6 billion directing dollars. She said the lack of a bachelor’s degree meant Marrone wasn’t qualified to be a battalion commander — four levels below the fire chief — in the city.

Marrone said he believes his decades of experience have made up for the lack of formal higher education.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-02-21/anthony-marrone-selected-la-county-fire-chief L.A. County’s acting fire chief gets the job permanently

Alley Einstein

Alley Einstein is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Alley Einstein joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing Alley@ustimespost.com.

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