Fresno, Calif. (KFSN) — After nine years as the fire chief of the Fresno Fire Department and almost 30 years as a firefighter, Chief Kerri Donis said it was her choice to retire, and believes it’s the right decision.
Looking back on her career, she recalls a defining moment that would help shape the way she approached her role as chief.
That turning point was a house fire in 2015, when Captain Pete Dern fell through the roof.
“I knew that it could make or break my career, I mean I could have been done in 9 months, but I knew it was the right thing to do. To call in an outside set of eyes to say what happened and what were the causes, and outlining causes for this tragedy to happen,” explained Donis.
That move was first met with resistance but led to extreme changes in the department.
After an extensive investigation, the department received 162 improvement recommendations.
To this day, all of those improvements have been met or are in progress.
Donis not only made history as the first female fire chief, but she was also the first lesbian.
She says choosing to be authentic gave her a good foundation for her leadership role.
During her time as chief, Donis also helped advance other women’s firefighting careers.
“Four years ago I sent one of our female firefighters down to San Diego to attend their camp and basically get intel on how you do it,” Donis said.
The program has since grown from 42 campers to over 100. The camp also has a new name, The Chief Kerri Donis Girls Empowerment Camp.
“I was really taken back, I wasn’t prepared for that one, I thought, ‘wow, that is really thoughtful,'” Donis recalled.
Chief Donis’ last day is March 1st. As for what’s next, she says you can catch her on the beach.
“I think the next chief has a great opportunity to just pick up the ball and continue moving it down the field,” said Donis.
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