The city’s search committee wanted someone who would “bring out the best in others,” according to Councilmember Bruce Harrell, and Harold Scoggins, Mayor Ed Murray’s nominee to lead the Seattle Fire Department, fit that bill.
Mayor Ed Murray has nominated Harold Scoggins from Glendale, Calif., as the next chief of the Seattle Fire Department, saying he wants the department’s new leader to protect the city as it grows and to build a more diverse firefighter workforce.
Scoggins, 49, who became Glendale’s fire chief in 2008, is a former U.S. Air Force firefighter who has spent his entire 25-year civilian career working for the Los Angeles suburb. He started at the Glendale Fire Department as a firefighter in 1989.
Glendale, with a population of about 200,000, is much smaller than Seattle, which is home to more than 600,000. But Scoggins, in a Wednesday news conference that was webcast to firefighters watching in the city’s fire stations, said he helped supervise a regional response system in Southern California responsible for a total population of more than 800,000 in a dozen municipalities.
“As Seattle grows rapidly over the next 20 years, our fire service must continue to evolve to serve the city’s needs,” Murray said in a statement.
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“Our department saves lives every day, and our Medic One program remains a national leader in paramedic training for our firefighters. Chief Scoggins has an outstanding track record and brings the right kind of experience to Seattle.”
Scoggins, if confirmed by the City Council, will replace Gregory Dean, who retired as Seattle’s fire chief at the end of 2014 after a decade in charge. Michael Walsh is the interim chief.
The Seattle Fire Department currently has 80 vacancies, Murray noted, saying Scoggins must “intensify recruitment of a diverse workforce.”
Women make up just 8.4 percent of the Seattle Fire Department’s workforce. That’s a higher percentage than the 3.4 percent national average for fire departments, but the mayor wants the department to continue to add female firefighters, he said.
Murray’s nomination of Scoggins is the result of a national search that began after Dean announced his retirement last October.
City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who chairs the council’s public-safety committee, said the city’s search committee sought a Russell Wilson-type leader who would “bring out the best in others,” like the Seattle Seahawks quarterback. Scoggins, more than other qualified candidates, fit that bill, Harrell said.
Scoggins has support from the Seattle Fire Fighters Union, Local 27, said the union’s president, Kenny Stuart. If confirmed, one of the new chief’s most pressing challenges will be handling an increasing number of emergency calls, more than 80 percent of which are medical in nature rather than fire-related.
Another issue will be the department’s impending “retirement tsunami,” as Murray put it, saying the new chief needs to establish a strong plan for training new leaders.
Seattle’s most recent controversy involving firefighters came when two were accused of beating up homeless men in Pioneer Square last spring. The firefighters were fired in August and were acquitted on criminal charges in December.
“Matters of accountability are very important for the success of any organization,” Scoggins said when asked about his approach to discipline. “When these events occur, the first thing you have to do is take a couple steps back and get an understanding of what really happened and the facts.”
“Being understanding and taking care of our people is what’s needed in the organization,” he added, saying, “Sometimes it takes a while to find out what you really have to do to change behavior.”
Seattle’s fire agency has more than 1,100 employees and an annual budget of about $178 million. In January, the department added a new aid unit with 10 additional firefighters downtown, Murray said. Scoggins is set to start work on April 1 with a $205,000 yearly salary.