Fresno Fire emerging from ashes of Dern injury, recession

In the midst of a rebuilding, Fresno’s fire department is refocusing on firefighter safety after Captain Pete Dern’s devastating injury.


The Dec. 17 City Council meeting got a late start (1:30 p.m.) and went well into the night. There weren’t many in the audience when council members debated the mayor’s plan to spend nearly $8 million of unexpected mid-year funds.


As we have seen, $645,000 was set aside for the last half of this fiscal year for nine new Fire Department positions and more training.

That’s a lot of money, and everyone on the council dais knew the bill for everything for a full fiscal year would easily double. There was every reason to think the new hires and extra training would become a permanent part of the department’s operations.

Donis knew what the council members were thinking. She had already met individually with at least some of them to discuss the SART report and its financial implications.

Council Members Steve Brandau and Lee Brand raised a handful of key points.

Let’s start with Brandau and the nine new hires.

“That’s a lot of safety personnel,” he said to the Chief. “Talk to us about what’s happening.”

The SART report isn’t official yet, Donis said.

“We’re hopeful it will be out at the first of the year,” she said. “It’s a very in-depth document. We took a very courageous approach – to ask outside fire peers to come in and ask what the issues or factors were that may have contributed to the cause of that incident. That will probably be over 200 pages, and the goal was not to ever let it happen again.”

Donis said she met with the SART experts twice, each for five hours. The first time was when the report was 60% done. The second was at the 80% mark. The report has findings and recommendations, not a list of “do this” or “do that.”

“But it didn’t take very long to figure out what the needs were,” Donis said. “The way I’ll frame for you – it’s like a house. If you don’t have a solid foundation, your house will fall and fail. This (SART) plan is that foundation. It is a foundation that makes our firefighters safer through training and oversight. It changes the culture of our firefighters through training and oversight. And it will improve our firefighting practices through training and oversight.

“Having one aspect of that plan without the other will not produce the results we want.”

In essence, Donis said the Fire Department was facing a crisis of attitude, training and resources. She said the problem had been festering for years, perhaps decades.

“To be very frank, we have kicked this can down the road for that long,” Donis said.

1 comment
  1. I’ve followed the Pete Dern event from day one as I’ve a relative who is also a Fresno Fire Fighter and this came close to home, even though I live over 200 miles away. I have to commend Chief Kerri Donis for her willingness to accept criticism and see it as opportunity. As a tax payer and former government employee I can appreciate BOTH sides of the “coin” and also the emotional issues. However, I agree with the Chief’s vision – training is THE KEY in all things. If you tuck your knuckles under while holding the onion and learn to slice it in that manner over and over eventually you will have a sliced onion in seconds and not minutes (I’ve never learned to do so, but then agin I never attended Culinary School nor have I practiced repeatedly – so now when I slice onions I cry) AND here is the “KEY”- application, physically doing the training, is essential, time consuming, and costly. If NOT done properly we all end up crying. I hope ALL Fire Chief’s across our Nation ask for Fresno’s SART Report. I’ll be asking my local Fire Chief’s to request it – I used to believe the Police/Sheriff/Marshal departments kept me safe, however EVERY incident where I’ve needed help immediately, it’s been the Fire Department that arrived FIRST. I want all my fire department personnel’s safety FIRST – Maybe I’m just selfish!

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