Fire Chief Fennessy To Leave For Orange County Job
>>> I AM MAUREEN CAVANAUGH . IT IS THURSDAY, MARCH 8. OUR TOP STORY, AFTER THREE YEARS AND THE TOP JOB, SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY HAS ANNOUNCED HE IS LEAVING. HE IS TAKING A JOB AS CHIEF OF THE ORANGE COUNTY HIGHER AUTHORITY. SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY TALKED ABOUT HIS DEPARTURE WITH PORTERS TODAY. HE WAS ACCOMPANYING WITH A MAN WHO WILL BECOME THE INTERIM FIRE CHIEF. SUSAN MURPHY WAS AT THE EVENTS. SHE JOINS US NOW. WELCOME SUSAN. WHAT DID SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY HAVE TO SAY ABOUT WHY HE IS LEAVING HIS POSITION AS SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF. -- ? >> HE SAYS HIS DECISION TO LEAVE THE SAN DIEGO FIRE DEPARTMENT AFTER NEARLY 3 DECADES IS VERY BITTERSWEET. HE JOINED THE FIRE RESCUE DEPARTMENT IN 1990. HE ROSE THROUGH THE RANKS AND BECAME CHIEF IN 2015. HE SAYS HE WAS RECRUITED BY ORANGE COUNTY. THEY CALLED HIM SEVERAL TIMES. IT WAS AN OPPORTUNITY THAT HE COULD NOT PASS UP. WE HAVE A CLIP OF HIM EXPLAINING HIS DECISION. >> IT IS A REAL HONOR TO HAVE SERVED FOR THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO FIRE RESCUE DEPARTMENT. AND ALL THE TIME THAT I HAVE HAD. I WILL START OFF BY SAYING, THE OPPORTUNITY IN ORANGE COUNTY WAS ONE I WENT LOOKING FOR. I WAS APPROACHED MULTIPLE TIMES. AFTER CONSIDERABLE REVIEW, THE ISSUES AND CHALLENGES TAKING PLACE IN ORANGE COUNTY APPEARED TO BE A GREAT PROFESSIONAL GROWTH OPPORTUNITY. AND A PERSONAL GROWTH OPPORTUNITY. >> GO AHEAD SUSAN. >> SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OF COURSE, ORANGE COUNTY DID EXPERIENCE MAJOR FIRES. HERE IN SAN DIEGO, SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY IS NOTED WITH IMPLEMENTING THE HELICOPTER PROGRAM HERE. IT IS SOMETHING HE HOPES TO BRING TO THE TABLE IN ORANGE COUNTY. >> SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY HAS BEEN STRUGGLING WITH SAN DIEGO LIFEGUARDS. THE CHIEF WANTED THE LIFEGUARDS TO BECOME MORE INTEGRATED WITH THE FIRE DEPARTMENT. IT WAS SOMETHING THE LIFEGUARDS RESISTED. THAT HE TALK ABOUT HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH LIFEGUARDS TODAY AND WHETHER IT INFLUENCED HIS DECISION ? >> YES, THAT HAD NO IMPACT WHATSOEVER ON HIS DECISION. HE SAYS HE WANTED TO GIVE FIRE CREWS GREATER LEEWAY TO PROVIDE PUBLIC SAFETY SERVICES FOR THE CITY. CLIFF AND WATER RESCUES, THOSE ARE EMERGENCY CALLS THE LIFEGUARDS WOULD TYPICALLY RESPOND TO AND NOT NECESSARILY FIREFIGHTERS. HE SAYS THEY ARE A COERCIVE FORCE. SOME LIFEGUARDS WERE NOT HAPPY ABOUT HIS VISION. HE SAID THERE WERE ONLY A FEW THAT FELT THAT WAY WE HAVE A CLIP OF HIM EXPLAINING THAT. >> FOR THE RECORD, I LOVE OUR LIFEGUARDS. IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT WERE PLAYED OUT IN THE MEDIA VERY PUBLICLY IS NOT REALLY REALITY. IF YOU GO TO ANY OF OUR RESCUES ON CLIFFS, THEY HAPPEN DAILY. WHEN IT RAINS DOWN THE RIVER, YOU WILL SEE FIREFIGHTERS AND LIFEGUARDS WORKING RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER. >> SUSAN, HOW ARE OTHERS REACTING TO THE ANNOUNCEMENT ? >> I THINK IT WAS A SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT. I DON'T THINK MANY PEOPLE WERE AWARE. THE NEWS BROKE LAST NIGHT. HE FELT HE NEEDED TO HOLD THE MEETING TO HAVE A CHANCE TO EXPLAIN HIS DECISION TO LEAVE. I KNOW THAT HE IS GREATLY ADMIRED AND WELL-LIKED IN THE EMERGENCY SERVICES OF SAN DIEGO. IT WAS DEFINITELY A SURPRISE. MANY, EXCEPT FOR MAYBE A FEW LIFEGUARDS, ARE SORRY TO SEE HIM LEAVE. >> YOU MENTIONED THE HELICOPTERS THAT SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY BROUGHT TO THE FIREFIGHTING CAPACITY . AND HE WANTS TO DO THAT IN ORANGE COUNTY NOW. WHAT ARE SOME OTHER MAJOR COMPLIMENTS WHILE HE WAS HERE IN SAN DIEGO DURING HIS 30 YEARS IN THE FIRE DEPARTMENT ? >> HE SAYS HE IS VERY PROUD THAT HE HAS HELPED TO IMPROVE RESPONSE TIME, EMERGENCY RESPONSE TIMES. HE SAYS BUILDING ADDITIONAL FIRE CREWS THAT WERE NEEDED WAS A COMMITMENT. APPROVING THE -- IMPROVING THE HELICOPTER PROGRAM AND WATER DROPS. HE IS ALSO PROUD OF DIVERSIFYING RECRUITMENT. HE SAYS THE FOREST IS MORE ETHNICALLY DIVERSE, EVEN IN THE LAST THREE YEARS. INCLUDING MORE WOMEN ON THE FORCE. HE SAYS FIRE INSPECTIONS HAVE IMPROVED AS WELL. A MORE ADAPTIVE COMMUNITY TO FIRE -- FIGHT IRELAND -- WILD FIGHTERS. WERE AGENCIES AROUND THE COUNTIES TO RESPOND. >> WHO WILL TAKE OVER FOR SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY IN THE INTERIM ? >> KEVIN FESTER, ASSISTANT CHIEF OF OPERATIONS. HE HAS BEEN WITH SAN DIEGO FIRE DEPARTMENT FOR NEARLY 33 YEARS. HE HAS RISEN THROUGH THE RANKS ALSO. HE HAS ALSO APPLYING FOR THE JOB. THE OPEN RECRUITMENT BEGINS NEXT WEEK FOR A PERMANENT REPLACEMENT. >> WHEN DOES SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY LEAVE ? >> SAN DIEGO FIRE CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY LEAVES ON APRIL 13 . HE WILL BE HERE FOR ONE MORE MONTH. >> I HAVE BEEN SPEAKING WITH KPBS REPORTER SUSAN MURPHY.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer Thursday announced San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Brian Fennessy is leaving the department, reportedly to become chief of the Orange County Fire Authority.
Fennessy will be replaced on an interim basis by Kevin Ester, assistant chief of business operation and 33-year department veteran, while a search for a permanent chief is conducted, Faulconer said.
His last day as chief in San Diego is expected to be April 13.
"I am exceptionally proud of the men and women of SDFD and feel confident in the future direction of the department under Chief Ester's leadership," Fennessy said. "I am blessed to have raised three children while proudly serving the residents of San Diego. My family and I view this next chapter in our lives as an outstanding opportunity for personal and professional growth."
The Orange County Fire Authority has been without a permanent chief since Jeff Bowman abruptly resigned Aug. 17 of last year, saying he was making the move with a "heavy heart" but giving no reasons. Authorities also gave no reason for Bowman's sudden departure after he served roughly three years in the post.
Patrick McIntosh was appointed interim fire chief by the OCFA Board of Directors on Sept. 28 to serve until a new chief was hired.
Fennessy has been chief of the SDFD for less than three years. He was picked by Mayor Kevin Faulconer to replace the retiring Javier Mainar in early September 2015, confirmed by the City Council later that month and sworn in on Nov. 12, 2015. Before taking over the top leadership job, Fennessy was an assistant chief with the department.
Fennessy has more than 40 years of firefighting experience and joined the SDFD in 1990 after previously working for the U.S. Forest Service, where he was a hotshot member. In his role as assistant chief before taking over the department, he was in charge of emergency operations at all city fire stations and was credited with strengthening the SDFD's helicopter firefighting.
The Orange County Fire Authority that Fennessy will now lead covers all of Orange County's unincorporated areas as well as several of its largest cities, including San Clemente, Irvine, Mission Viejo, Santa Ana, Yorba Linda and Buena Park.