Phoenix, AZ first female Fire Chief


By D.S. WoodfillThe Republic | azcentral.comThu Jan 30, 2014 11:33 PM

For the first time in Phoenix history, a woman will lead the city’s Fire Department.

Acting City Manager Ed Zuercher has chosen Kara Kalkbrenner, a 30-year veteran of the department, to take over for outgoing Chief Bob Khan, who is retiring Feb. 28 to care for his ailing father.

Kalkbrenner is a native Phoenix resident and joined the department as a firefighter in 1984, Zuercher said in making the announcement on Thursday at a news conference.

She will serve as interim chief starting March 1 “until a national recruitment for the permanent position is concluded,” Zuercher said.

Kalkbrenner, the department’s executive assistant fire chief, has been Khan’s second-in-command since July. Her previous positions include engineer, captain, division chief and deputy chief.

“In each position I’ve held, I’ve remembered my humble roots, which is working on a firetruck and serving the great citizens of Phoenix,” Kalkbrenner said at the news conference. “As I’ve (been) promoted up through the ranks, I’ve dedicated my work to ensuring that all of the members of the Phoenix Fire Department have the resources that they need to serve and protect the community.”

As Khan’s second-in-command, Kalkbrenner oversaw the department’s $300million budget and served “as liaison to City Hall and the city’s law department.” She also managed the Fire Emergency Transportation Services, which performs billing and collections for all Phoenix city ambulance transports.

Shelly Jamison, division chief over the department’s public affairs, said Kalkbrenner does not plan to make any major changes after her appointment and will follow through with the same mission and priorities of the current leadership. Those priorities include responding to calls safely, meeting response-time goals and maintaining service.

Khan, who spoke to The Republic just before Zuercher’s announcement, discussed the biggest challenges facing the next fire chief.

“I think we need more training,” Khan said. “We need some more fire stations, especially as we start to see subdivisions come back to life. We need some new apparatus. The fleet is getting old. We’ve got some stations that are deteriorating; we need to get them restored. (These are) things that kind of went by the wayside through the recession.”

All that will be tough in a time of fiscal austerity, he said.

The city faces a $26 million to $52 million general-fund deficit in fiscal 2015. Zuercher has attributed the shortfall to slow revenue growth and increases in mandatory expenses, among other things.

“That’s always a challenge, but it’s been really tough the last few years, and will be really tough for the next two or three years,” he said.

His advice: “Embrace the city of Phoenix. Take good care of the people that protect them. Understand that it’s ever-evolving, and every day that you come to work try and make things a little better.”

Kalkbrenner has an associate degree in fire science from Phoenix College, a bachelor’s degree in fire-service management from Ottawa University and was an adjunct instructor for the fire-service program at Maricopa County Community Colleges.

Her husband, Kevin, is an assistant chief overseeing the Operations Division. The couple have two children.

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