New HFD Chief Pledges Culture of Change

Houston’s new fire chief — who hails from Arizona — says he wants the department to embrace a culture of change. As Laurie Johnson reports — Terry Garrison also wants HFD to look more like the community in terms of diversity — which means more women and minorities in the ranks.

Incoming Fire Chief Terry Garrison is the mayor’s pick as gamechanger for the Houston Fire Department. He was selected out of seven finalists for the position as the man to give the department new direction.

“I think there’s some issues that are taking place that definitely need to be fixed. I would like to create a culture that embraces organizational change. That’s not really something that happens a lot in the fire service — we really get around our traditions and we pretty much hold tight to those as we just discussed. The fire service really needs to be an organization of change.”

Houston Mayor Annise ParkerAnd that’s precisely why Houston Mayor Annise Parker picked him. From the beginning of the process, the mayor said
she wanted a national search and made no secret of looking for a candidate outside HFD.

“I wanted someone to come in that had a different perspective and was willing to rethink why we do things, how we do things and if there was a way to do it better. We have some very fine members of the Houston Fire Department who applied for this position. And the acting chief, again, a very well-qualified candidate. But my belief was that it was really time for a fresh approach, new eyes and an outside perspective.”

Garrison takes over the top spot from Interim Chief Rick Flanigan, who many thought should be the mayor’s permanent pick. He’s been in the position since January, when then Chief Phil Boriskie resigned after being reprimanded for his handling of internal problems regarding two female firefighters.

Those internal problems include allegations of racism and sexism in the department. Garrison says that culture will not be tolerated.

“We cannot assume that people are acting in an appropriate way — we need to train them. We need to identify these are the values, these are the characteristics, this is my expectation — our expectation for the organization and then hold people accountable.”

Garrison most recently served as fire chief in two small cities. Prior to that, he was with the Phoenix Fire Department
for 30 years. He’ll be confirmed by city council on September 15th.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF News.


Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson


Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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