NBC 7 confirmed Wednesday that the chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) is stepping down from his post to take on a new but similar role in Orange County.
SDFD Chief Brian Fennessy told NBC 7 that he has accepted a position as the fire chief with the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA).
Fennessy has been in his current role since September 2015 but has worked with the SDFD for the past 28 years. His last day on the job in San Diego is expected to be April 13.
On Thursday, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer confirmed Fennessy’s departure from the SDFD, pending approval of the contract terms with the OCFA, expected next week.
In the interim, the mayor said SDFD Assistant Chief of Business Operations Kevin Ester will fill Fennessy’s role. Ester is a 33-year veteran of the department. Open recruitment to find a permanent leader for the position will begin next week.
Fennessy joined the SDFD in 1990; he rose to chief under the appointment of Faulconer two-and-a-half years ago.
In a prepared statement released by the mayor’s office, Fennessy called his move to Orange County “an outstanding opportunity for personal and professional growth.”
Faulconer said one of Fennessy’s most notable accomplishments with the SDFD has been leading the charge on the city’s helicopter program, which now includes two firefighting and rescue helicopters equipped to fly at night, used for water drops and rescues throughout San Diego County. The choppers are the only air resources in the region capable of aiding in nighttime firefighting operations.
Fennessy and his department also jumped in to help Cal Fire during last December’s destructive Lilac Fire in Bonsall. The chief called the response to that fire “unprecedented,” touting the cooperative efforts of federal, state and local agencies.
In the thick of the Lilac Fire, Fennessy told reporters, “We continue to be prepared. Nobody’s going home; we’re not out of this yet.”
In March 2017, Fennessy responded to concerns about a new 911 dispatch system he said was designed to improve response times and public safety.
Harris brought up the possible issues with the system after the rescue of a toddler from a pond near Mission Bay Park. That toddler, a 19-month-old boy, died in the accidental drowning.
Fennessy fired back at Harris, calling his criticism of the 911 system a political stunt, saying Harris was “misleading the public by making uninformed and false statements about this change.”
Fennessy and Harris have also clashed over the lifeguard union's consideration to break away from the SDFD.