Los Angeles' First Latino Fire Chief Sworn In

Ralph Terrazas takes the helm of a department wracked by dwindling numbers and problems with response times.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Los Angeles confirmed its first Latino Fire Chief Friday, who swore to rebuild a department wracked by cutbacks and controversies. Patrick Healy reports for NBC4 News at 6 p.m. from downtown Los Angeles Friday, Aug. 8, 2014.

    Los Angeles' first Latino chief was sworn in Friday as the city sets a new vision for an agency that City Hall acknowledges has been "decimated."

    Ralph Terrazas was sworn in during a ceremony at Los Angeles City Hall.

    He rose through the ranks, responding to the Northridge earthquake, to directing the department's response as incident commander at the massive tanker fire and the active shooter attack at LAX.

    Now in his dress uniform, taking the oath of office, Terrazas takes on the biggest challenge yet: Rebuilding a department wracked by cutbacks and controversies.

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    It is a department that in the past seven years has gone through five previous chiefs.

    "I love this department," he said. "And want to leave it better than I found it."

    Terrazas said he got a commitment from city leaders for the resources to rebuild a department 10 percent smaller than before the 2008 economic crash.

    He "takes charge at a crucial time," Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

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    It's not just the cutbacks that led to increases in response times, but stagnation in technology.

    Terrazas is an enthusiastic booster of Firestat, akin to the computer monitoring program police have been using to zero-in on problem areas and increase performance.

    Terrazas said the program helped firefighters respond quicker to an emergency on the crowded Venice Boardwalk.

    His support of integrating fire dispatch with police may run into union opposition, but Terrazas has the union president's respect.

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    Frank Lima, the president of United Firefighters Los Angeles City, said he is looking forward to working with Terrazas.

    Terrazas, a father of three, does not define himself as LAFD's first-ever chief of Latino heritage, but it's clearly a source of pride and duty.

    "I'm going to do everything I can to be a role model," he said.

    Terrazas says he wants to broaden recruiting and intends to revive an outreach to collegiate women athletes with the physical strength for firefighting.

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