In 2014 Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged to reform the Los Angeles Fire Department. Promises of greater responsiveness, embracing technology and making the department more reflective of the community were abound. His first step at fulfilling that pledge – the appointment of a Fire Chief, in the form of 31-year department veteran Ralph Terrazas. The appointment is not only an attempt to fulfill those promises, but it makes Terrazas the first Latino chief in the history the Los Angeles Fire Department.
While it may be a surprise to many, it seems L.A. Fire Chief was a role Ralph Terrazas was born for. An Angeleno through and through the 54-year-old Terrazas was born in Long Beach, California and raised in Wilmington. A graduate of Banning High School, he played on two City Championship football teams before going to San Diego State. Besides his roots in the community, he showed early on the pedigree and bones for the job. During those college years at San Diego State he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration and a Certificate in Fire Protection Administration. In 1983 he would be appointed to the LAFD, fulfilling a lifelong goal of a professional career in the fire and EMS service. During his tenure with the LAFD Terraza would personify the inclusion, responsiveness and penchant for technology the department now seeks. He would establish the Department’s Professional Standards Division (PSD), which upgraded and professionalized the LAFD’s disciplinary system; he would apply metric-based management to improve data tracking of specific objectives and lead the development and passage of the Proposition “F” Fire Station Bond, which enabled the construction of 19 new LAFD stations.
However, if you ask Terazzas, he’s just getting started. At his induction Terazzas told The San Gabriel Valley Tribune “this department will be metrics-driven, technology-focused, community-focused organization that is reflective of the communities that we serve.” As part of that, Terrazas said he wants to revive a program that focuses on hiring more women firefighters, as well as working to develop a joint computer-aided dispatch system with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Yet, the appointment does more than address the ills have befallen the department. It provides the Latino community and community at large with renewed hope. In discussing his appointment City Councilman Gil Cedillo summed it up perfectly. “Now, they can look at the department and say, I could one day be fire chief.”