Acting LACoFD Chief Anthony C. Marrone chosen to fill post permanently
Board members rejected calls by female and minority crewmembers to look outside the agency for a more diverse candidate pool
By Rebecca Ellis
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday selected acting Fire Chief Anthony C. Marrone to fill the post permanently, amid calls by some firefighter groups for the supervisors to look outside the agency for a more diverse candidate pool.
The board voted unanimously in closed session to ask the chief executive to enter into contract negotiations with Marrone. The appointment is expected to be finalized in a vote next week.
The looming hire has frustrated some of the department's female and minority firefighters, who said they expected the supervisors to look outside the department's top ranks — an echelon of the department long dominated by white males.
"I'm sure it's going to be a shock to everyone in the department," said firefighter paramedic Johnny Gray III, president of the L.A. County Stentorians, a group that advocates for Black firefighters along with other underrepresented groups. "No one saw it aired out to the rest of the county to maybe apply to it. I don't think the department knew as a whole this was happening."
The presidents of the Stentorians, the Women's Fire League and Los Bomberos de L.A. County sent a letter to the board before Tuesday's vote saying they wanted the board to carry out a national search for a new chief within the next three months.
"This action is critical to ensure equity in hiring and promotion within a department that has struggled for decades to do so," the letter said. "If internal promotion is the only path to the chief role, this pattern will continue in perpetuity. The department is currently faced with numerous accusations of harassment, retaliation, discrimination, racism and intimidation."
The county Fire Department is one of the busiest in the country, serving roughly 4 million residents. It responds to emergencies in all unincorporated parts of the county as well as in roughly 60 cities that contract with the agency.
Since its founding, the department has remained largely white and male. The board appointed the department's first Black chief — Daryl L. Osby — in 2011. No woman has held the top post.
When Osby stepped down last summer after 11 years, the supervisors named Marrone, a department veteran, as acting chief while they looked for a permanent hire.
In a brief interview, Marrone touted his decades of experience inside the department and 11 years on the department's executive team. Marrone, who joined the department in 1986, said he's successfully steered it through two line-of-duty deaths, the Omicron coronavirus surge and, as of Monday night, the safe return of the county's Urban Search and Rescue team, which was dispatched to Turkey after this month's deadly earthquakes.
Like the authors of the letter, he said he too believes the department needs to do more to lift up the firefighters who rarely make it to the top ranks.
"People of color and women under Chief Osby's leadership for 11 years have made great strides," he said. "It's an ongoing process. There's more work to be done. I think I'm prepared and I have all the skills necessary to lead that fight."
Marrone is supported by Los Angeles County Fire Fighters Local 1014, the union representing roughly 3,400 county firefighters. Union President David Gillotte wrote to the board last week that the department had been "to hell and back the last few years" and needed a permanent leader to boost morale. Gillotte urged the board to make Marrone permanent "in the instant."
But minority groups within the Fire Department said they need a leader who will make it a priority to tackle what they say is persistent sexism and racism within the department. Some have questioned whether Marrone is that person.
Gray said he consistently hears about derogatory remarks directed toward Black firefighters. A few years ago, he said, he spoke with a Black fire department employee who told Gray a white crew was calling him the N-word backwards every time they walked by. Gray, who has been with the department for 12 years, said that he had heard this month of another Black firefighter who was called the same racial slur.
"There are instances of folks using the N-word openly," Gray said. "There are definitely situations that are happening still — and it's 2023. I don't think we'll ever get rid of it completely."
Gray spoke to a reporter Tuesday as he drove to the funeral of Hershel Clady, a trailblazing Black firefighter who was the first within the department to get promoted. Clady, who entered the force in 1969, rose through the department's ranks despite opposition from his fellow firefighters and bosses. He once opened his locker to find a snake, according to an interview he gave with The Times in the 1990s. To keep getting promoted, he had to repeatedly sue the county.
"It's just ironic. He'd turn over in his grave already at what's transpiring," Gray said. "He fought all those years, went to court all those years — and some of the same stuff is still happening to this day."
Supervisor and Board Chair Janice Hahn said she takes these concerns seriously.
"We are falling way behind other departments in hiring women and that needs to change," Hahn said in a statement. "I pledge to work with the next chief on not only making sure we are hiring more women and people of color as firefighters in the department, but that everyone is given an equal shot at promotions and opportunities."
Supervisor Hilda Solis said she trusted the new chief to make addressing the lack of diversity within the department a priority.
"The vote should say something, right?" she said. "We felt this individual was capable of dealing with the challenges this department has faced in the last 2½ and three years."
The Los Angeles Fire Department has been plagued with similar problems. The Times reported in 2021 on the experiences of female firefighters who said they endured a "frathouse culture" in which women and minority firefighters reported being routinely bullied. At the time, women made up 3.5% of the sworn personnel, though then-Mayor Eric Garcetti had been aiming to reach 5% or more.
Advocates for female and minority firefighters said they believe the county's numbers are even worse, with less emphasis on recruiting women and people of color. A county spokesperson said the county does not have a breakdown of demographics of firefighters by race and gender available and would need time to compile it.
Kris Larson, Los Angeles Fire Department's first Black female assistant chief, said the county department's problems are "100% the same" as the city's. The only difference, she said, is that the county's department is not as closely scrutinized.
"I'm surprised that they haven't had more scrutiny," said Larson, a founding member of Equity on Fire, a nonprofit that advocates for more inclusive fire departments on the West Coast. "I think with a Board of Supervisors that's all women, they should be asking some hard questions."
Larson said she believed that the L.A. County process had been "hushed and rushed" and questioned whether Marrone, who did not graduate from college, was qualified to lead a complex department with an operating budget of roughly $1.6 billion. She said the lack of bachelor's degree meant Marrone would not be qualified to be a battalion chief — four levels below the fire chief — at the city.
Marrone said he believed his decades of experience made up for a lack of formal higher education.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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