Millage Peaks, who most recently supervised Los Angeles fire stations on the Westside including in Westchester, Venice and near Los Angeles International Airport as a battalion chief, has been nominated as the new chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced his selection of Peaks as LAFD chief during a news conference Friday, August 28th. Peaks took over the position on an interim basis the following day.
If approved by the City Council, Peaks will become only the second African American to lead the LAFD, replacing its first African American fire chief, Douglas Barry, who announced his retirement in May after 34 years of service.
“Chief Peaks is a born leader and a consummate professional who has earned the respect and support of his peers,” said Villaraigosa, who was joined by members of the city Fire Commission during the announcement.
“He brings not only a wealth of experience, but the courage of his conviction to stand up for what he knows to be right.”
Fire officials hailed Villaraigosa’s choice of the 33-year LAFD veteran, calling Peaks an experienced leader and saying they were pleased with the promotion from within the agency. Members of United Fire Fighters of Los Angeles City, who have disagreed with Villaraigosa’s handling of budget cuts which have led to a reduction of fire companies and ambulances on a rotating basis, say they support the mayor’s selection of Peaks.
“We know Chief Peaks to be a good man and an experienced leader, and we look forward to working with him,” said Mike McOsker, a business representative with UFLAC. “We know him to have the strength of character necessary to be successful in office.”
Fire Department spokesman Capt. Bill Wick also referred to Peaks’ vast experience working at some of the city’s busiest fire houses and said he has the necessary qualities of a strong leader.
“He’s definitely a fireman’s fireman,” Wick said. “He’s always been fair and just in his decisions and he has a reputation for being stern and of high morale.”
Peaks most recently served as a chief of Battalion 4, which oversees stations on the Westside such as 5 in Westchester, 63 in Venice, 62 in Mar Vista, 67 in Playa Vista and 95 near LAX. During his time at Battalion 4, Peaks also oversaw the planning, design and construction of Fire Station 80 at LAX and became familiar with airport and FAA operations, Wick said.
Another of his duties as battalion chief was the investigation involving African American firefighter Tennie Pierce, who claimed that he was served spaghetti laced with dog food at Westchester’s Station 5. Pierce alleged that he was retaliated against by fellow firefighters after reporting the incident and after leaving the department, he was awarded over $1.4 million in a lawsuit settlement.
Peaks, who helped implement new disciplinary guidelines for the department, expects firefighters to act professionally and have a high caliber of performance, Wick said.
“He always has the best intentions for firefighters and he understands what we go through in the field day to day,” Wick said.
Peaks previously served 17 years as chief officer, being only the fifth African American to achieve that rank in the department’s history.
He joined LAFD as a firefighter in January 1976 and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming Captain I in 1984 and Captain II in 1987. In 1992, Peaks took charge of a battalion in South Los Angeles, overseeing six stations.
He was appointed in 1995 to an investigation team charged with reviewing allegations of mistreatment of female recruits. The committee determined the allegations to be unfounded, but Peaks broke rank with then Chief Donald Manning by speaking out against the investigation findings.
Former Fire Chief William Bamattre appointed Peaks to serve as his chief of staff in 1995 and a year later, he took command of Battalion 18, where officials say he became a mentor to the firefighters. Prior to taking over as Battalion 4 chief, Peaks was named operations chief executive officer in 2004, assisting in developing the department’s multimillion-dollar budgets.
Peaks earned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from California State University-Dominguez Hills and an associate of arts degree in chemistry from El Camino Community College.