Austin Fire Department’s search for a new chief draws six male candidates from across the country

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Following the mid-summer departure of former fire chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, Austin Wednesday named six candidates—two from Texas—to take the reigns of the country’s 16th largest fire department.

Kerr, who left the Austin Fire Department in July to lead the fire department in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was the first female fire chief in Austin’s history; however, if any of the six candidates named in a press release Wednesday pans out, Austin will have to wait for its second female chief as the candidate list did not include any women.

Michelle Tanzola, public information and marketing manager for the Austin Fire Department said executive search service Affion Public was running the selection process and referred all questions to the city manager. City Manager Spencer Cronk and assistant manager Rey Arellano were not immediately available for comment.

None of the candidates are Austin Fire Department employees, yet two currently work in Texas. Noel Horan serves as the assistant to the director for the San Antonio Fire Department—he formerly served as assistant chief—and Steve Landlin is the current fire chief and emergency management coordinator in Laredo, Texas.

The other four candidates span the country. Joel Baker retired as fire chief for the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department in Georgia; Kevin McGee serves as chief for the fire and rescue department in Prince William County, Virginia; Mark Rohlfing is the current chief for the Milwaukee Fire Department in Wisconsin and Scott Walker is the assistant chief for the Phoenix Fire Department.

“The new Fire Chief will be responsible for directing, planning, and coordinating the activities of the department and will serve as the administrative head under the direction of the City Manager, reporting to the Assistant City Manager over Public Safety,” the press release read.

The next chief will take over a fire department with a nearly $200 million budget and 1,151 sworn firefighters and 106 civilian staff that respond to more than 85,000 calls per year. The department’s chief of staff, Tom Dodds, will continue to lead the squad in the interim.

The next stage for the six candidates is panel interviews, which are expected to start next week according to the press release.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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