Was Fire Chief Conroy Forced Out?


Back in November at the same time the Davis City Council gave the fire department a 400,000 battalion chief leadership model, the city had announced that Fire Chief Rose Conroy would be retiring.  In fact, she officially retired in November, but had agreed to stay on as the acting fire chief in order to allow for continuity and participate in some pending matters.

That arrangement ended abruptly last week, as she sent out a farewell email to the department.

At the time she cited cost-savings.

“It was obvious that my benefits cost a significant amount of money, and I could just give that back to the city if I retire.  If the city can save $50,000, $60,000 for my benefits costs, that’s a significant savings.”

However, that rationale makes little sense unless the department would promote from within and leave the previous position open.

Last week, the Enterprise quoted an unnamed firefighter:

“There was no preparatory information passed on that, come the 16th of February, she would no longer be here.  I was just left wondering, what’s going to happen in the short term? Who do we report to?”

City Manager Bill Emlen will now seek an short-term interim fire chief, either someone from within the department or who has prior experience with the agency until they can find a long-term replacement.

The question is whether the Chief was forced to retire.  There has been reported some unhappiness with the Chief following the Grand Jury complaints.  The fire union and city manager were able to prevail on the City Council to keep the full report by Ombudsman Bob Aaronson from getting to the City Council and to the public.  However, the word we have received is that privately things were not so rosy for the Chief.

There have been suggestions from credible sources both anonymous and within the city that indicate there was somewhat of a power struggle and this final and abrupt resignation might signal that the chief had lost that power struggle and was unable to name her own replacement as she apparently desired.

Rose Conroy was hired as a firefighter in 1979.  She became chief in 1994 and at that time she was the first woman to become fire chief in California.

Recent years have seen an increasingly strong focus on the fire department in the city of Davis.  The June 2008 Grand Jury report blasted the department for a hostile work environment, unfair promotional practices, and the infamous incident of intoxicated off-duty firefighters sleeping at the fire station that made the regional news clip.

Beneath the surface of that report however was the power of the fire union.  Chief Conroy may have laid the grounds for her own demise when she refused to be part of the bargaining team for the city, arguing that the firefighters deserved everything they asked for and then some.  The firefighters then got a 36 percent pay raise over a four year period that has put a tremendous strain on city resources.

In a series of articles, the Vanguard has shown that the firefighters union was a major force in city council elections, with seven of the last nine elected councilmembers receiving firefighter endorsements.  The result of that power was a growing discrepancy between the pay of police officers and firefighters.

Moreover, the union has used its power in other ways, becoming one of the few cities to retain four member firefighter teams through the current fiscal crisis and even getting the costly $400,000 battalion chief position during a time when the city is cutting nearly $4 million from its budget.

Chief Conroy has been steadfast in her support of the union and all of the benefits her department has received.

The question now is whether the final resignation of the chief marks the beginning of a new era for the Davis Fire Department or whether the union can once again muster enough political power to get one of its own installed as the next fire chief.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Ryan

    Great article David. And I think that we are all counting on a new and better era of the Davis Fire Department. This city can NOT continue a continuation of the mismanagement, political shenanigans, as well as the manipulation of the “system” that reaped the outrageously high salaries paid to the firefighters for SO many years. It is no wonder now why the firefighters we so active and generous to City Council candidates during City Council campaigns in the past to garner favor for the over-generous firefighters salaries bankrupting the city.

    Vanguard, please re-post all of the “independent expenditures” that the firefighters dumped into previous city Council races to refresh our memories.

    Let’s hope that City Manager Emlen gets it right and cleans up this mess. I for one am glad to see Conroy moving on so we can hope to see a clean-up of the Davis Fire Department’s act. The “cash cow” days of the city paying out mega-salaries to the firefighter’s better damn well be over.

  2. nvn8v

    If there is a consolidation of Davis FD and UCDFD, a likely candidate would be Nathan Trauernicht, the current Operations Chief for UCDFD. Young, bright, enthusiastic, and from the outside. (he only came to the Department in 2008 from Oroville, CA)

  3. pairadeez

    Maybe we can have some positive information on Rose Conroy. I don’t know a whole lot about her but what I do know is that there is a statue of her at the state capital for her positive services with the fire service. Maybe its just me, but I don’t think they just put anybody up there. I do know for a fact that the usual norm of a fire chief is someone who has been retired and collects from a retirement and then becomes the fire chief under a whole new city and retirement so that they can put in their 5 years service just to vest in that city and then retires. Which then gives them the opportunity to draw from 2 retirements. Correct me if I’m wrong, Rose came up from the ranks of Davis fire department and was working past her 30 years of service and drawing from only one retirement. Unlike the next chief who comes in will more then likely only be a part timer as in only putting in their 5 years and leave. I don’t know about you but if I knew I only had 5 years I wouldn’t do much to help either side, (city and fire). All I am asking is that we show a little appreciation of her time and true dedication of her 30+ years of service. According to S. Greenwald Rose will be sucking off the system until Rose is 99 to 100 years old. Maybe Greenwald should look up the true statistics of firefighters life span or quality of life after retirement!

  4. David M. Greenwald

    Maybe he did: link ([url]http://davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2977:calpers-debunks-myth-of-shorter-life-expectancy-for-safety-employees&catid=58:budgetfiscal&Itemid=79[/url])

  5. pairadeez

    On regards to the link, it misses major points that the last comment makes.


    09/18/09 – 09:01 PM

    This article does a poor job of putting things into perspective. Let’s take for example a typical week in the life of a police officer. One call the officer may respond to a call regarding a child who was brutally abused and molested. Do you really think that doesn’t have an effect on that officer, especially when the officer will most likely encounter another call like that. That next call and officer goes to a call regarding a family that was brutally slaughtered. Another call, officers responded to a call regarding one of their co-workers that was shot and killed by a criminal that was arrested 3 weeks ago, but was released because a technicality in the justice system. Next the officer responds to a call at a home where the entire family hates the police. That family challenges the right and authority of the police to be there, and the police are required to defend themselves. That family later sues the police officers for violations of their civil rights, although no violation were present. And then there are those who make complaints against officers just for the purpose of harassing them. The examples go on and on and on. Now imagine the constant stresses and emotions associated with that over a 20-30 year career. Not to mention a majority of officers never make it that far do to injury or death.

    It is a fact, officers that worked to the typical retirement age, did not live long after retirement. Now that the retirement age has been lowered, officers are now living longer because of the ability to retire early. These are the people who run toward gun fire when everyone else is running away. These are the people who die by the hundreds every year to keep the public safe. I think an early retirement is the least we can do to protect our public safety personnel.

    Not trying to pick and choose on justifying the retirement but there wasn’t much to that article. How about the quality of life? Or maybe the health and injury troubles police and firefighters have while working the job. Try and explain that one to the 343 firefighter families that have to deal with their deaths on 9-11. Or the firefighters and police who have to retire early because of the lung and disease problems they have encountered after that day. Yes, thats the chance they take but not just anyone would be able or willing to do that kind of service. Shouldn’t they be rewarded something for 30 years of risking life and safety?

    Back to my original comment, I’m a long time Davis resident and greatly appreciate the service Rose Conroy has given to the city. You say this is a non-bias blog but I see and hear nothing but fingers and blames put on the fire department.

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