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.


There’s nothing hard-hearted about Brandau. But he’s a practical man when it comes to public money and public institutions. He wanted to make sure logic, not emotion, was driving this spending decision.


Donis added another thought before the pause that would give the microphone back to Brandau.

“The experience of Captain Dern’s incident was probably the most challenging near miss in my career, and possibly your experience here on the city council, and for sure members of the department,” Donis said. “And we, collectively, have an opportunity here to never let that happen again. But we also, collectively, have an opportunity – and quite frankly an obligation – to implement changes that don’t allow that to happen again. And, as your fire chief, this is the plan to make that implementation happen. I have to commend the City Manager and the Mayor for listening when I brought this forward and said: ‘We have to draw a line in the sand. We can’t keep doing this.’ They were very supportive.”

Brandau managed only a modest question about possible staffing redundancy with the nine added positions: “This isn’t built-in overlap here?”

Donis said the department’s training commitment “has been at minimum, at best. We had this (Dern) incident. We have got to change the culture of this organization and the way that we fight fire and train to fight fire. Not only for our members, but for our community. That takes bodies to implement that training.”

Donis said battalion chiefs are pivotal to oversight of fire stations. The current ratio is one battalion chief to eight or nine stations. With the added personnel, the ratio will drop to one battalion chief/six stations.

Said Donis: “When I’m asking battalion chiefs to lead training – and also coach with their crews and their captains – and also make administrative meetings – and also attend their mandatory training – and also take on their projects – (then) they’re not meeting that demand of oversight in the field.”

Donis lightly tapped the public podium for emphasis as she stated each dependent clause.

“I want to push our members away from online training – where they sit in the station and they train and get their quota number of hours online,” Donis said. “There’s no learning occurring with that.”

Brandau: “I agree.”

“I need chief officers in the field to lead hands-on training,” Donis said.

Brandau at this point seemed spent. He wanted to make sure that most, if not all, of the new hires would be trained firefighters.

“So, I could say this: If we vote for this tonight, if I vote for this, I’m helping you overhaul the fire department in regards to safety, which you said is something we need to change,” Brandau said.

“Absolutely,” Donis said.

“I could also look at it, like, these folks will also be helping us fight fires in the city of Fresno,” Brandau said.

“They won’t be on an engine or truck,” Donis said. “But if we have an emergency, if we have two fires going at the same time and we need additional overhead staff, they can respond.”

“They’re all trained firefighters,” Brandau said. “They’re not just trained safety specialists. They know how to fight fires.”

“Yes,” Donis said.

Brandau was done. He moved to approve the Chief’s spending request.

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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