City Hires New Fire Chief

Recently retired chief in Atlanta moves west

Incoming Fire Chief Joel Baker at a candidate forum last month (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The Austin Fire Department should have a new chief on Dec. 10. City Manager Spencer Cronk announced Friday afternoon that retired Atlanta Fire Rescue Chief Joel Baker has been chosen from three finalists; his nomination will be considered by City Council on Thursday, Nov. 15. Baker will take over for Tom Dodds, who's been serving in interim capacity since Rhoda Mae Kerr left for her native Ft. Lauderdale back in March.

Baker spent 30 years with the Atlanta Fire Rescue Depart­ment and was named chief there in 2015 before retiring in February, and evidently getting bored with retirement (and Atlanta) in short order. He was selected for the position over Laredo Fire Chief Steve Landin and Prince William County (Va.) Chief Kevin McGee. The three were announced on Oct. 18 after Cronk whittled candidates down from six. They went through a series of private panel interviews before getting put before the public at a candidate forum on Oct. 25.

Easily the biggest task for the new chief will be repairing the department's relationship with the Austin Firefighters Association, which clashed with Kerr on a multitude of occasions. AFA President Bob Nicks expressed optimism that Baker is the "right guy at the right time," hanging that thought on the dinner he and Baker had after the lone public engagement forum last month. Nicks said Baker discussed his strengths and weaknesses going into the position and expressed an interest in having the same candid discussions with the rank-and-file. "I don't hear leaders in our department talking like that," Nicks said. "That's not something I'm used to hearing. I think that's indicative of a strong leader."

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Joel Baker, Spencer Cronk, Rhoda Mae Kerr, Bob Nicks

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