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LA Fire Chief Is Retiring, Making Way For The Department's First Female Leader

LAFD Deputy Chief Kristin Crowley smiles and poses in her uniform.
LAFD Deputy Chief Kristin Crowley at the 2019 MAKERS Conference at Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point.
(Rachel Murray
Getty Images North America)
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Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas is retiring after almost 40 years with the department.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has nominated top deputy Kristen Crowley as the city's first female fire chief.

A 22-year department veteran, Crowley is currently Acting Administrative Operations Chief Deputy and Fire Marshal. She was the first female Fire Marshal and the second woman to rise to Chief Deputy.

If confirmed by the city council, Crowley will take over a department that has been rocked in recent months by allegations of systemic sexism and racism, complaints that have been raised in one form or another for decades.

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In a statement, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the department "is leading a transformative national discussion about strengthening equity and inclusion within the firefighting ranks, and we must overcome those internal challenges too."

At the news conference announcing Terrazas' retirement and Crowley's appointment Tuesday, she promised "to create and support and promote a culture that truly values diversity, inclusion and equity within the entire organization." That will require more training and transparency, she said.

Crowley also said anyone engaging in harassment will face consequences: “If that type of behavior is occurring, that will not be tolerated, period.”

Asked how the department investigates claims of sexual harassment, Terrazas said, "We do have the ability for somebody to submit a complaint anonymously. But we do have to have that person step up and tell us what is the complaint, we can't guess. So it's a constant challenge."

Even as a woman is poised to run the department, the move towards gender diversity among firefighters has been very slow. When Garcetti took office in 2013, female firefighters made up just under 3% of the department's ranks. "By the summer, 4% of our firefighters will be women," the mayor said Tuesday.

Terrazas had previously announced that he planned to step down this year. He told the news conference his retirement will be effective on March 26.

Since becoming chief in 2014, Terrazas is credited with rebuilding the department after it had stopped hiring during the Great Recession. He also increased racial and ethnic diversity in hiring, with people of color now making up half of L.A. firefighters for the first time.

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas stands at a podium and speaks.
LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas visits a coronavirus vaccination site at Lincoln Park in Dec. 2020.
(Frazer Harrison
Getty Images)

But Terrazas' tenure was marked by allegations of racist and sexist behavior in the department.

A KPCC/LAist investigation last October found women firefighters experience "verbal abuse, isolation, hostile pranks and training exercises designed to humiliate," as well as sexual harassment at times, "threats of violence" and "in a few cases, assault."

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Despite having paid out numerous large settlements for harassment and racist conduct, "firsthand accounts indicate city leaders have failed to follow through on pledges to root out hazing, sexism and racism at the department," our investigation found.

Also in October, a group of women firefighters called for Terrazas' resignation over what they called his "failure to address a pervasive racist and sexist culture" within the LAFD.

Last August, the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. Attorney's office in L.A. was “carefully reviewing” allegations by Black and Latino firefighter groups that the department engaged in civil rights violations and other wrongdoing.

The Times also reported that in the fall of 2017, Assistant Fire Chief Roy Harvey, one of the department’s most senior Black members, sent Terrazas a memo saying Black firefighters had experienced “openly hostile and disrespectful comments in person and on social media” from their colleagues on the topic of Black NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.

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