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Council, firefighters welcome new Fire Chief to Austin

Friday, November 21, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Austin City Council and dozens of firefighters welcomed new Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr at Thursday’s Council Meeting. The Council unanimously voted to ratify City Manager Marc Ott’s decision to hire Kerr for the top job at AFD. She is scheduled to start Feb. 2.


“She has impressed everyone, including us, with what I would characterize as a likeability factor that translates into someone who will both be involved in and embrace the community,” Ott said. “And make no mistake, Chief Kerr, we will embrace you back. She understands the issues facing our city. We’re absolutely convinced of that.”


Dozens of firefighters and EMS personnel in the audience gave Chief Kerr an enthusiastic round of applause after the Council’s vote. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am personally to be standing her welcoming Chief Kerr to the department,” said Acting Chief Jim Evans, who has been in charge since Chief J.J. Adame stepped down under pressure earlier this year. “With over 32 years of history with the department myself, I think I can attest to the fact that this is an historic moment with the department. We are just ecstatic to have Chief Kerr coming on board.”


Chief Kerr will be the department’s first female Chief. She told the Council she was looking forward to her new job. “I am truly excited about the opportunity to serve as the next Fire Chief. I will be very proud to lead the great Austin fire department into the next generation,” she said. As for her first order of business when she begins in February, Chief Kerr told In Fact Daily that “the first thing I want to do is get to know the organization, try to get out and meet all the people, do some site visits. I know that I won’t make every single fire station within the first few months, but that would be my goal…to visit every station at some point, but certainly every district on each shift.”


Council Member Mike Martinez, a former firefighter, said he is confident that Chief Kerr is the right person for the job. Her appointment, he said, shows the strides the department is making in promoting diversity. “We’re getting there. Today is just another step in that direction,” he said. “As you know, Chief Kerr, being the first is not so important as making sure that you’re not the last.”


Martinez also took a few moments during Thursday’s Council meeting to speak with the dozens of firefighters in the audience about the proposed contract between the city and the Austin Firefighters Association.


“You all are making a very, very important decision this week. I ask you to truly consider the contract that is before you,” he said. “In these current economic times…and with the situation that you’re in with your pension fund, with your retirees struggling out there to make ends meet on a day to day basis…you have a very difficult decision in front of you. This contract asks you to open your arms and welcome diversity in the Fire Department. But at the same time this city is making a commitment to your salaries and to your pensions for the rest of your lives. I think that’s a fair trade-off.”

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