Former Atlanta Fire Chief to lead Austin Fire Department after unanimous support from City Council

Joel Baker was confirmed as the new Austin fire chief on Nov. 15.

Joel Baker was confirmed as the new Austin fire chief on Nov. 15.

Former Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Joel Baker will take over the reins at the Austin Fire Department following an Austin City Council vote on Thursday.

City Manager Spencer Cronk appointed Baker to succeed former chief Rhoda Mae Kerr earlier this month. Kerr, who was the first woman to lead the Austin Fire Department, left earlier this year to take over a fire department in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Baker is the first African-American to serve as Austin fire chief.

Baker said he was “humbled” by the confirmation and thanked interim chief Tom Dodds for his work.

“I pledge full commitment and to continue the support of the Austin Fire Department, which is a fire department that's recognized and respected not only in the state of Texas, but throughout the country,” Baker said. “So it's my goal to continue to serve as an ambassador, not only to the city of Austin, but to the Austin Fire Department.”

Upon his appointment earlier this month, Cronk said Baker’s experience—over 30 years with the Atlanta fire team—leadership and public commitment made him right for the job.

On the dais at City Hall Thursday, council members expressed their confidence in the city manager’s choice to take the fire department into the future.

District 10 Council Member Alison Alter said she was impressed by Baker’s “fresh perspective” in their one-on-one conversations.

“One of the things that we spoke about was wildfire,” Alter said to Baker. “As we have members of our force that are in California fighting wildfires, I look forward to working with you to make sure our city is ready and prepared to avoid those situations, and should they occur, that we have everything that we need to keep our citizens and our property safe.”

Bob Nicks, leader of the Austin Firefighters Association, acknowledged the friction that has come between the union and city over the years—most recently with the shortage of fire stations in the city and overtime pay for firefighters—but praised Cronk’s choice and City Council’s confirmation of Baker.

"I've spent time with Chief Baker in person and over the phone and I truly believe he's the right person to lead us to the next level,” Nicks said. “I feel very confident that with his leadership we're going to be able to solve the issues we had and move on to running the department in even a better manner.”
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


MOST RECENT

After a significant drop soon after the onset of COVID-19, home sales nationally have risen in the past few months. Austin has followed the same trend, but in a more pronounced manner. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin's economy is crawling slowly back to recovery. So why is the housing market booming?

Low interest rates, constricted supply and continued population growth have accelerated the sellers' market in Central Texas, leaving 26% fewer homes on the market this September than there were at the same time last year.

Local violinist Shawn LeSure
HAAM gets funding boost from Central Health to enroll musicians of color in health coverage

Days ahead of open enrollment beginning in the health care marketplace, Travis County’s health care district and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians struck a deal to secure increased health care coverage for the city’s musicians of color.

Less than a week ahead of the Nov. 3 Election Day, Cihan Varol, an associate professor with Sam Houston State University's Cyber Forensics Intelligence Center, shared insight on foreign election hacking and what it means for voters. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Sam Houston State University cyber forensics intelligence expert talks foreign election hacking ahead of Nov. 3

"There is a very slim chance that the hackers can change vote count, but they can definitely influence people to believe that they did manipulate it," Cihan Varol said. "If election fraud is going to happen, it'll be because of disinformation."

Face coverings are not required for those entering polling places in Texas during the general election. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
UPDATED: U.S. appeals court pauses decision voiding face covering exemption at polling places

The court temporarily stayed a district judge's decision to void an exemption to Gov. Greg Abbott's statewide face covering order concerning polling places.

The Native Plant Sale is open to reservations only through Nov. 22. (Courtesy Lady Bird Wildflower Center)
From fall festivals to 5Ks, here are 16 events to put on your calendar in Southwest Austin, Dripping Springs and around the region

From the virtual Texas Book Festival to ghost tours in Georgetown, find an event to attend this October and November.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir speaks to reporters Oct. 28 at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Travis County breaking voting records; clerk expects turnout to climb as high as 80%

More than 480,000 ballots have been cast in Travis County, surpassing the total from the 2016 presidential election.

Photo of new construction in process
South Austin developer sues city in ongoing saga to improve permitting process

An Austin developer alleged the city circumvented a state law that requires permitting to take place within 30 days.

Photo of boarded-up Sixth Street bars
With COVID-19 projections 'bleak' through Thanksgiving, Travis County keeps bars closed

Statistical models from the University of Texas show a 92% chance the pandemic is worsening, but the increase in cases and hospitalizations have leveled off in the last few days.

Slab BBQ owner Raf Robinson said the payroll protection program saved his restaurant. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
'I just need to pay the rent:' Austin small businesses in survival mode are doing everything in their power to outlast the pandemic

From selling inventory to flipping their business models to changing a yoga studio into a coworking space, small business owners are trying to avoid adding their names to the growing list of locally owned Austin institutions that have shut down.

Customers can order Goodstock Angus and Goodstock Black Label beef, including ribeye steaks, strip steaks, filets and ground chuck. (Courtesy Nolan Ryan brands)
Nolan Ryan expands Round Rock-based butcher business and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Austin area.

Burnet Road at West Braker Lane
Corridor projects along South Lamar Boulevard, Burnet Road will break ground by early 2021

Two corridor roadway projects approved in the city of Austin’s 2016 Mobility Bond are moving forward after recently receiving environmental clearances.