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Villaraigosa nominates second African American fire chief, union praises choice

August 28, 2009 | 12:48 pm

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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today nominated Battalion Chief Millage Peaks to be the city’s new fire chief, replacing the retiring Douglas L. Barry, the department’s first African American top commander.

If confirmed by the City Council, Peaks, who also is African American, will take over a department that has been struggling in recent years with allegations of hazing and racial unrest among firefighters. The Me3_kp3s80ncdepartment has also made major budget cuts in the last few months that officials admit could reduce emergency response times, and contract talks between the mayor’s office and a city firefighters union appears headed for impasse.

Villaraigosa made the announcement at a morning news conference at City Hall, calling Peaks the “right man at the right time’’ to lead the department through the city’s tough fiscal times while ensuring that protecting public safety remains its top priority.

The head of the city firefighters union praised the choice, saying Peaks has strong support at firehouses across the city.

“It’s a good step for the mayor, kind of a restart with rank-and-file firefighters,’’ said Pat McOsker of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City. “We haven’t been in agreement with everything lately, but we certainly are in agreement with his choice for fire chief.’’

Peaks supervised the internal inquiry into complaints filed by firefighter Tennie Pierce in 2004, who later sued the city over a firehouse hazing incident. Pierce said a Latino and two white firefighters slipped dog food into his firehouse spaghetti.

Peaks called the incident “grave’’ and said that his report on the investigation was altered by one of the department’s top commanders. In 2006, Peaks told The Times that he may have urged more severe penalties against the accused firefighters, but added that he couldn’t say for sure because he did not know what became of his original report.

-- Phil Willon at L.A. City Hall

Photo credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

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