Fire Chief under fire

Embattled Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed announced her retirement this week in the face of mounting criticism over a fire in a converted warehouse that killed 36 late last year, the city's mayor said.

Deloach Reed, the first black woman in the country to head a major city fire department, had been under scrutiny since revelations emerged that the warehouse had been converted to live/work spaces without authorization and had not been inspected in decades despite numerous visits by Oakland firefighters and and police officers.

Deloach Reed plans to stay on the job through May, according to the Bay City News service in San Francisco.

As many as 20 people, primarily young artists, lived in the two-story warehouse in the gritty Fruitvale district in the southwest part of Oakland, the third largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly all of the victims were attending a musical performance on the second floor of the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse; one resident was killed in the blaze.

The victims were apparently overcome by smoke after being unable to escape when the building's lights went out. There were no fire alarms or sprinklers in the building, which was zoned for commercial occupancy only, with no lit exit signs.

The disaster prompted numerous calls for making police officers and firefighters responsible for reporting unapproved living situations they encountered, but an order to require such reports was rescinded as premature by city officials. Some expressed concern that such a requirement could discourage people living in illegal units from seeking assistance or reporting crimes, but others said a new policy along those lines was being drafted.

Fire Chief in the hot seat

Deloach reportedly is delaying her retirement until she completes five years in the chief position, enabling her to qualify for an Oakland civil service pension. Deloach had been an assistant chief and firefighter in San Jose, the Bay Area's largest city, for more than 20 years before taking the Oakland job.

"Chief Reed has been a role model to many," Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a written statement. "I thank her for her dedication and service to the department and this community."

Deloach Reed was highly decorated during her long career as a firefighter and fire chief, earning the NAACP Henry Gage Senior Excellence in Leadership award, the IABPFF Black Chief Officers' Committee Metro Lifetime Achievement award, and the Martin Luther King Association's Public Safety and Service award. Deputy chiefs Mark Hoffmann and Darin White are expected to replace Deloach Reed while Oakland conducts a national search for a permanent replacement, local media reports said.