Saturday, February 4, 2017

[Alameda County] Editorial: Oakland fire chief clearly doesn’t get it, she should go

Blog note: this editorial references a 2014 grand jury report on the subject. Earlier articles posted on the blog do so, as well.
Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed’s threat to sue a hillside homeowner is the final straw: Attempts to stifle criticism are unacceptable. Reed must go.
It’s become clear in the wake of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire that she is incapable of fixing the problems plaguing her department.
We’ve heard lots of excuses from the chief about budget constraints. But Reed’s recent performance at a meeting of hillside residents demonstrates she’s temperamentally unfit for the job.
She’s in charge of the Fire Department and that means she’s accountable for her subordinates’ behavior. That also means that she must professionally respond to criticism of the Fire Department and of her leadership.
She might disagree with critics, but threatening to sue them is beyond the pale. A public official like Reed has almost no chance of prevailing in a legal action that tries to silence critics. And with good reason: Our libel laws are designed to protect dissenting views.
More significantly, Reed’s reaction reveals a defensiveness that makes constructive corrections impossible. Right now, there’s a clear need for radically reforming the deeply dysfunctional Oakland Fire Department.
This newspapers’ reporting following the Ghost Ship fire, which killed 36 people, has highlighted problems that have plagued the department for years.
More than a third of commercial buildings went unchecked despite city code at the time requiring annual inspections, according to a 2014 Alameda County grand jury report.
The department in 2015 became the first in the state to be stripped of its California certification to perform hazardous materials inspections.
And, as reporters David DeBolt, Matthias Gafni and Thomas Peele have revealed, the Fire Department has botched the hills inspection program that’s supposed to guard against a repeat of the 1991 conflagration, which killed 25 people and destroyed 3,000-plus homes.
That has hillside residents understandably concerned. At a Jan. 19 meeting of the Wildfire Prevention Assessment District Citizens Advisory Committee, former member Dinah Benson presented a history of the district and fire prevention issues in the hills.
“Administrative support from the various fire chiefs during the life of the (district) went from warm and hopeful to downright hostile with the current fire chief,” Benson said.
The chief reacted angrily, interrupting the committee chairwoman and demanding equal time to respond to what Reed called “a bunch of lies.”
“I’m going to be talking to my attorney about this because … I am tired of this group coming after me and trying to blame me for all the deficiencies that are going on within this group.”
The issue is not the committee’s deficiencies. The issue is dysfunction of the Fire Department. And for that, Reed is ultimately responsible. It’s time for Mayor Libby Schaaf to find a new fire chief.
January 31, 2017
East Bay Times
By East Bay Times Editorial Board

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