Fresno announces first female Fire Chief

Fresno made history Tuesday as the city announced its first female fire chief.
January 14, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Fresno made history Tuesday as the city announced its first female fire chief. Interim Fire Chief Kerri Donis will now officially head the department.

Fresno Fire, like many other departments in the city, is severely understaffed. Chief Donis says she's already working to bring on new fire fighters, especially as we face a very dangerous fire season.

Donis now heads the department after 18 years of service. She began working as a Fresno fire fighter after graduating from Fresno State.

"To have Fresno be my starting point and move up through the ranks and now achieve the goal of being the fire chief is a blessing and an honor," Chief Donis said.

She sat down with Action News Tuesday to talk about the issues facing her staff and the public. Budget cuts eliminated nearly 20 firefighters. She says staffing levels are dangerously too low and that can take its toll on the department during these extreme drought conditions.

"We are rolling the dice too many times," she admitted. "We need to address, long-term, our investment in adding firefighters in the field. It's a better model, it's a healthier model, it's a [safer] model for our fire fighters."

Chief Donis also says she will focus on planning for and funding replacement of the department's aging equipment, increasing training and streamlining fire safety inspections.

She's served as interim fire chief since the summer, when she took over for Rob Brown. He resigned his post after issues of domestic violence landed him in jail.

The new chief is glad to be a role model as one of only a handful of female fire chiefs in the country. "I am humbled and honored to be the fire chief, after 137 years, yes I'm a woman, but I'm the fire chief, not because I'm a woman," she said.

City officials also say Chief Donis has already secured nearly $5 million in grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security to help with staffing levels.

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