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Pryor Named New Fire Chief: By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday October 29, 2004

A near life-long Berkeley resident has gotten the nod to become the city’s next fire chief. 

Debra Pryor, 43, the deputy fire chief of Palo Alto, has been selected by City Manager Phil Kamlarz to run the Berkeley Fire Department. 

If the City Council approves the hire as expected at its Nov. 9 meeting, Pryor would begin duties in mid December, Kamlarz said. 

The hire would be a homecoming for Pryor, who grew up in Berkeley and spent 17 years with the Berkeley Fire Department, working her way up to deputy fire chief before taking the same job in Palo Alto two years ago. 

Pryor was a runner-up for the chief position in 1997, when the job went to Reginald Garcia, who retired earlier this year. She would be the first African American and the first woman to serve as Berkeley fire chief. Before joining the Fire Department, Pryor worked as a clerk for Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board. 

“Debra has the advantage of knowing Berkeley, knowing the Fire Department, and also having experience outside the city,” Kamlarz said. 

He added that Acting Fire Chief David Orth will resume his duties as deputy chief. Orth was one of six candidates interviewed for the position out of a pool of about 25 applicants. 

Pryor will inherit a department beset by strains between the union and top brass over recent budget cuts.  

In two weeks the department is scheduled to close a ladder truck company after the firefighters’ union and city leaders failed to agree on a plan for firefighters to defer a portion of their scheduled salary increases. 

“The challenge is to provide leadership and bring everyone together,” said Kamlarz. 

Asked about the hire, Union President Mark Mestrovich said, “It’s good to see the city has selected a fire chief and we’re looking forward to having positive relations.” He added that union members served on interview panels but didn’t recommend a candidate.