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Kerr to assume Fire Chief duties in early February

Friday, November 14, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Austin will have its first female Fire Chief on Feb. 2. That is when Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr will start her new job with AFD. City Manager Marc Ott on Thursday made the public announcement that Kerr was his choice to fill the position. “I’m confident that Chief Kerr fits Austin and will do an outstanding job of elevating one of the best fire departments in the country to even higher levels,” Ott said. His decision is subject to ratification from the Council.


Kerr, who was back in Little Rock, Ark. on Thursday after spending the day in Austin on Wednesday, said she was delighted to be offered the job with the Austin Fire Department. “They’re already recognized as a terrific fire department in the country, and I’m thrilled and excited to become a part of that,” she said. “They have a great opportunity to step themselves up to a higher plane.”


Kerr has been the Chief in Little Rock for the past five years. Before that, she rose through the ranks of the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. fire department. The Chief’s position at AFD will pay $160,000 per year.


One of the first challenges facing Kerr will be improving diversity within the department. “I think she’s going to work with us and be aggressive from a recruitment standpoint, encouraging greater application by minorities and greater application by women as well,” said Ott. He said the proposed contract between the city and the Austin Firefighters Association should also help in that area. “One of the things that the union and we agreed to was to allow the Chief to have greater flexibility in regard to recruitment and selection, so we hope that that flexibility, along with the support we’ve gotten from the fire union, will allow us to increase of representation of women and minorities.”


Austin Firefighters Association President Stephen Truesdell said Kerr’s selection had the support of the union. “I think she’s going to be a very dynamic leader. She’s very involved…not only in the fire department but in the community,” he said. “I think that’s something that’s going to be a huge benefit to the Austin Fire Department, getting public exposure of the benefits we bring to the community.”


City Manager Marc Ott said he had gotten a very favorable reaction to the recruitment and selection process from members of the Fire Department. He said he would not have considered a process that did not include them. After all, Ott said, “they’re going to be the ones who will be subject to the new chief.” He added that reactions to his choice also were by and large very favorable.


Truesdell was part of the evaluation team that visited the home cities of the finalists for the position. “I would say we were absolutely included in every step, which we are very appreciative of,” he said. “I think it should be the norm.”


Truesdell also said he had not heard any resistance from firefighters about having the department’s first female Chief. Her selection, he said, “is a significant step to show that women in the fire service can be recognized for their contributions. For many years, there were many obstacles in the way, and hopefully we’re getting to the point where those barriers are being removed.”

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