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Mayor picks dept. veteran as fire chief

August 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Los Angeles firefighters once again responded as smoke and flames filled the Los Angeles basin Friday. And Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa named a new chief to take over the often troubled department during a budget crisis. "In these uncertain times we need a certain kind of leader who can act decisively in these times of turmoil," says Mayor Villaraigosa.

The person chosen by the mayor, subject to council approval, is Millage Peaks, a Los Angeles Fire Department veteran of 33 years.

He comes to a department respected for its fire fighting but beset by controversy. In the past few years, the city has paid out more than $13 million to settle judgments related to firefighter discrimination or harassment cases.

The most prominent case involved firefighter Tennie Pierce, who had dog food put in his spaghetti at the station house.

"My mantra will continue: I will not condone poor behavior in our fire stations," states Peaks.

Peaks is respected by the people in the department. He has been on the front lines in many ways and admits personally experiencing discrimination.

"We plan on continuing our policy of zero tolerance," he says.

Retiring Fire Chief Doug Barry started that "zero-tolerance" policy along with Mayor Villaraigosa, and it has worked.

Los Angeles Fire Captain Alicia Mathis says she was discriminated against, but it has changed.

"Everybody wants to see fairness and equity, so that's something that many, many people have addressed over the years and are happy to see those changes occurring," says Mathis.

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