Ralph Terrazas named new LA Fire Department chief

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Los Angeles Fire Department Assistant Chief Ralph Terrazas  is Mayor Eric Garcetti's choice to be the department's next chief.   If the appointment is approved by the L.A. City Council, he'll be the city's first Latino fire chief.   

"I'm ready to reform, I'm ready to innovate," Terrazas said at a City Hall news conference Tuesday afternoon.   

Mayor Garcetti undertook a nationwide search for a fire chief to help the Los Angeles Fire Department reduce its response times and increase diversity in its ranks.  In the end, the Mayor stuck with tradition and promoted from within.

Responding to questions over why he would hire someone from within the LAFD to reform the department, Garcetti said: "You don't hand over the keys to a battleship to someone's who has driven a truck."

"Los Angeles is very fortunate that the men and women in our firehouses are the very best of the best. Now, I'm looking to Chief Terrazas to be my field general in reforming the fire department to ensure it's the best managed and most cutting edge in the nation," Garcetti said.

Terrazas said the mayor's efforts to reform the LAFD made him want to be the next chief.

"(The mayor) said something that was very profound. He said that he wanted to restore the fire department and I should fight for restoring the fire department with him. That sealed the deal for me," Terrazas said.

Every chief of the LAFD since the mid-1950s has come from within its own ranks. Chief Brian Cummings left the department last year. Since then, interim Chief Jim Featherstone has been in charge. The mayor said he expects Featherstone to return to his job as general manager of the Emergency Management Department. 

Terrazas is a 30-year veteran of the department. He helped to establish the Professional Standards Division and LAFD disciplinary system. He has a U.S. patent related to brush clearance and an Emmy for producing a LAFD public service announcement program. ​

He would likely start in August.  His annual salary would be $292,424, according to the Mayor's Office.  

Terrazas is expected to take the reins at a time when the LAFD is gearing up to hire a new class of firefighters.  That's even before a three-month assessment of department hiring procedures has been completed.  That study was ordered by Garcetti after he found the recruitment "fatally flawed." 

The mayor stopped LAFD's recruitment efforts in March following allegations of nepotism and a lack of diversity. He then asked RAND Corp. to spend three months evaluating the hiring process. A $270,000 contract with RAND was signed at the end of April. Its report is due at the end of July. 

Rather than wait for that report, the Mayor's Office asked LAFD to move forward with its next academy class. The FY 2014-15 budget includes enough money for three classes of firefighters.

"We didn't want to hold on hiring," said mayoral spokeswoman Vicki Curry.

The hiring process will be different than the one that drew so much criticism in the spring. Under the old process, applicants were not told that there would be just a 60-second window to turn in paperwork, according to the Los Angeles Times. Thousands of applicants were eliminated from the process because of that threshold. 

Under the new system, the estimated 13,000 applicants will be reduced to just 300 through a random selection. Fire officials said the random sampling would be done in a way that reflects the ethnic and gender makeup of the applicant pool.

Applications may be turned in between July 22 and 24. Those who make it through the random sampling will face written and physical tests, a background check and medical evaluation. Ultimately a class of 60 recruits will start in the academy on Dec. 29. 

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