Davis Hires Interim Fire Chief

davis_firedepartmentTwo weeks after Chief Rose Conroy abruptly retired, Davis has announced that they have hired William (Bill) Weisgerber, Jr. to serve in an interim capacity for the next several months.

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 in mid-February, as Chief Conroy sent out a farewell email to the department.  The move apparently caught even her own department off guard as an unnamed firefighter was quoted saying:

“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?”

In a release from the City of Davis, we learn a bit about Chief Weisgerber.

“Chief Weisgerber comes to Davis with over 30 years of experience with the city of Milpitas Fire Department, including seven years as their Fire Chief. During his tenure in Milpitas, he rose up through the ranks, in positions including firefighter, captain, battalion chief, division chief and fire chief. Milpitas, located near San Jose, is similar to Davis in population. Since his retirement from Milpitas in 2005, Weisgerber has specialized in providing consulting services to local fire agencies and serving in interim capacities. He has recent experience in Yolo County, acting in 2008 as the Interim Fire Chief for West Sacramento and in 2008-2009 as the Interim Executive Director for the Yolo Emergency Communications Agency.”

Said Chief Weisgerber:

“I am pleased to have this opportunity with the Davis Fire Department. I look forward to working with the organization in leading an effort to navigate through the transitional opportunities before us while maintaining continuity of operations.  As Interim Fire Chief, I want to guide a process that builds on the good work already established here, employs an inclusive style to help shape the future of the Davis Fire Department and works towards solid recommendations for ‘next steps’ while considering the interests of all stakeholders.”

It will be interesting to see what he says as he departs.

City Manager Bill Emlen is similarly upbeat:

“Mr. Weisgerber’s extensive background and experience in all aspects of fire service and emergency response in California make him an excellent choice to head up the Davis Fire Department on an interim basis.  I am confident he will be able as an effective Interim Chief, and I look forward to his utilizing his expertise in the coming months to serve and support members of the department and to represent the needs of the city and community.”

Adding Fuel to the Fire

Two weeks ago we speculated based on informed sources that Chief Conroy was forced out of her position.  The abruptness of the departure played into that belief. 

The fact is that the city has known since November that Chief Rose Conroy was retiring.  Some have suggested that the plan was for her to step down in February, even as she had agreed to stay on as the acting fire chief in order to allow for continuity and participate in some pending matters. 

Specifically they wanted her guidance as there were talks about joint operations with the city and UC Davis.  However, from our sources, the city and university appear little closer to some formal arrangement on that matter.

Moreover, if the plan was for the chief to leave in February, why would it take over two weeks for the city to find an interim chief – would not City Manager Bill Emlen have one ready to take over when the Chief finally retired?

This logical deduction however has a flaw in that there have been times when the City Manager has been caught flat-footed when he should have been able to anticipate his next move.  One prominent example is the two months that the City Manager sat on Bob Aaronson’s investigation in to the Grand Jury Report on the same fire department.  He knew the report would be coming, but was unprepared as to how to release it.

Nevertheless, we believe it is reasonable given other statements that the abruptness of the departure caught them off guard.

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. pairadeez

    The Davis fire members have battalion chiefs? If so its about time. But from my understanding there is no such thing. I have spoken with a few members of the fire members and to their knowledge there is no battalion chiefs. So would that mean there is no $400,000 being spent? Is it just me or do you have a personal hatred for the fire members? I received your news letter about the department in the mail the other day and I’ll tell you what, you’re loosing a lot of interest in this whole topic. I would like to hear further discussion on that matter, but unable to find the article on here. Can you please direct me to it or did you take it off?

  2. pairadeez

    Why just the fire department? Why not police, parks department, public works or and of the other city services or university departments? The joining of more departments means less department heads thus saving money, right?

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