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Search for New Fire Chief Begins in Early August

Tuesday July 20, 2004

The hunt for a replacement for Berkeley Fire Chief Reginald Garcia—who leaves Sept. 17—begins in earnest early next month, said City Manager Phil Kamlarz last week. 

The nationwide recruiting effort will be run entirely by city staff. 

“We’re looking for someone who can deal with the whole range of major issues here, including the department’s interaction with other city departments, getting the work done in a time of diminishing resources, and dealing with issues like injured homeless people on the streets,” Kamlarz said. 

As with cities across the state, Berkeley faces major budget problems this fiscal year. The current city spending plan calls for reducing fire department costs by $500,000 through such measures as the elimination of an assistant chief, a training lieutenant and an associate analyst, as well as downgrading the fire marshal position to civilian status. 

The City Council also asked for an additional $300,000 in cuts which would have come from voluntary pay reductions which the Firefighters Association refused to accept. 

For the 2006 budget, the council adopted a plan calling for an further reductions, which would come mostly from overtime, though if voters pass a bond measure this November, the cuts would be less severe. 

“There are no station closures,” said Kamlarz, “though cities like Oakland and Fremont are doing rotating closures.” Berkeley may, however, face reductions in the availability of specialized equipment. 

The salary range for the chief’s position ranges from $121,000 to $166,000, with Garcia currently at the top end of the scale. 

The new chief will be expected to live in or near the city, Kamlarz said. 

“It’s an important job, a front line position at the head of one of the city’s most important departments, and requires a lot of flexibility,” said the city manager. 

Garcia came to Berkeley in June, 1997, from the Oakland Fire Department, where he served as assistant fire chief in charge of operations. He played major roles in the Oakland department’s response to the 1991 hills fire and in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake. 

The Berkeley Fire Department currently has 142 personnel in seven stations with a total of seven engines, two hook and ladder trucks, a hazardous materials truck, and three ambulances.Ã