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San Diego fire chief leaves town for new role

SAN DIEGO – San Diego Fire-Rescue Department Chief Brian Fennessy is leaving the department to become chief of a Southern California Fire Authority. the mayor announced Thursday.

Fennessy’s last day as chief in San Diego is expected to be April 13.

The Orange County Fire Authority has been without a permanent chief since Jeff Bowman abruptly resigned Aug. 17 of last year, saying he was making the move with a “heavy heart” but giving no reasons. Authorities also gave no reason for Bowman’s sudden departure after he served roughly three years in the post.

Patrick McIntosh was appointed interim fire chief by the OCFA Board of Directors on Sept. 28 to serve until a new chief was hired.

Orange County Fire Authority official told FOX 5 Thursday morning they haven’t officially confirmed a new chief and plan to make an announcement on March 15.

Fennessy has been chief of the SDFD for less than three years. He was picked by Mayor Kevin Faulconer to replace the retiring Javier Mainar in early September 2015, confirmed by the City Council later that month and sworn in on Nov. 12, 2015. Before taking over the top leadership job, Fennessy was an assistant chief with the department.

“Chief Fennessy has been an outstanding leader of our Fire-Rescue Department and we wish him well as he takes on this great opportunity,” Mayor Faulconer said. “One of the strengths of our department is its preparation of future leaders within the chain of command who can step up when needed. The department is in great hands with Assistant Chief Ester, who has decades of experience in all facets of San Diego Fire-Rescue.”

Fennessy has more than 40 years of firefighting experience and joined the SDFD in 1990 after previously working for the U.S. Forest Service, where he was a hotshot member. In his role as assistant chief before taking over the department, he was in charge of emergency operations at all city fire stations and was credited with strengthening the SDFD’s helicopter firefighting.

The Orange County Fire Authority covers all of Orange County’s unincorporated areas as well as several of its largest cities, including San Clemente, Irvine, Mission Viejo, Santa Ana, Yorba Linda and Buena Park.

SDFRD Assistant Chief of Business Operations Kevin Ester was named interim chief.

Ester has been with SDFD for nearly 33 years, climbing the ranks as a firefighter, engineer, captain, battalion chief and deputy chief. He has worked a wide range of assignments across the City and in several administrative positions, including the department’s Logistics Division, responsible for the fleet, facilities and supply. In 2016, Ester became Assistant Chief of Business Operations where he oversaw Community Risk Reduction, the Emergency Command and Data Center, Logistics, Professional Standards and Human Resources.

“I am exceptionally proud of the men and women of SDFD and feel confident in the future direction of the department under Chief Ester’s leadership,” Fennessy said. “I am blessed to have raised three children while proudly serving the residents of San Diego. My family and I view this next chapter in our lives as an outstanding opportunity for personal and professional growth.”

“I am humbled and honored to be given this opportunity to lead the men and women of our Fire-Rescue Department,” Ester said.  “We have a workforce that gives their all in service to the citizens of our city, and have every day since 1989.  I thank Chief Fennessy for his mentorship, and wish him and his family the best as he pursues new opportunities.”

An open recruitment to replace Fennessy will begin next week.