LAFD Chief to Retire This Summer

City fire Chief Douglas L. Barry, who took over in the wake of an audit and lawsuits detailing incidents of racism and sexism in a department where hazing was routine, said Thursday that he will retire on Aug. 30.

Barry, 55, became the LAFD's first African-American chief when he was sworn in on Sept. 18, 2007, after serving as interim chief for nine months following the retirement of William Bamattre.

An audit released in January 2006 by then-Controller Laura Chick detailed a culture of discrimination and harassment against women and minorities in the department.

Shortly after Barry was sworn in, the city settled the high-profile case of firefighter Tennie Pierce, who sued for discrimination after other firefighters at his station fed him dog food. Pierce received a $1.43 million settlement.

Also in 2007, Brenda Lee, a 12-year LAFD veteran, received $6.2 million for being discriminated against and mistreated for being black and a lesbian, and Lewis "Steve" Bressler won $1.7 million after a jury found that the department retaliated against him for helping Lee report her discrimination allegations.

A third LAFD member, firefighter Gary Mellinger, also claimed he was retaliated against for assisting Lee. He settled with the city for $350,000 after a third jury found in his favor.

"Have we addressed those issues? Yes," Barry said. "We worked and have made strides in accomplishing and improving the work environment. Is everything going to be perfect all the time? No, I can't say that's always going to be the case."

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A report submitted in January to the Board of Fire Commissioners, the civilian panel that oversees the LAFD, outlined the department's efforts to improvement leadership and streamline disciplinary action taken against firefighters who get out of line.

Barry said he is leaving the department with a renewed sense of morale and optimism.

"If there are any successes that occurred during my time as fire chief, I cannot take credit for that because it's the fire department as a whole working together. A fire chief by himself cannot accomplish anything," said Barry, a 34-year LAFD veteran.

During a Thursday afternoon news conference at City Hall East, Barry said the saddest moment of his tenure as chief came last year, when he spoke at the funeral of firefighter Brent Lovrien. He was killed March 26, 2008, in an explosion near Los Angeles International Airport that was apparently caused by a faulty electrical cable.

"As a fire chief, you feel like a father figure and everyone is kind of like your children, so you feel hurt when those things happen," Barry said. "But when I looked across the cathedral and saw the support of the firefighters, not just our department but from throughout the region, it made me very, very proud to know that connection really exists."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Barry dedicated his life to the people of Los Angeles.

"Chief Barry led the department with intelligence and integrity," the mayor said. "At a moment of great challenge for our firefighters, he proved to be the right man at the right time to reform the department and cultivate a culture of respect, tolerance and mutual understanding in our fire houses.

"His courage inspired our firefighters through the battle of protecting lives and homes during the Griffith Park, Sayre and Porter Ranch wildfires, and rescuing the survivors of the devastating Metrolink collision," Villaraigosa said.

An interim chief is expected to be named when Barry leaves the LAFD at the end of August. Villaraigosa is looking at both internal candidates and those from outside the department to succeed Barry, according to a mayoral spokesman.

The selection of the new chief will require approval from the Los Angeles City Council.

"During his more than 30 years with the L.A. city fire department, Chief Barry displayed a calm demeanor and keen intellect whether fighting fires or leading the department into a new era. He steered us through an extremely difficult and critical time in our department's history with focus and aplomb. He will be greatly missed," said City Council President Eric Garcetti.

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