"I was looking for someone who was willing to ask, 'Is there a way to do it better?' And ask it over and over again. I believe Chief Garrison is willing to do that," Mayor Parker said.
Garrison reportedly edged out acting Houston Fire Chief Rick Flanagan for the department's top job.
"We are really excited about being a part of this community," said Chief Garrison. "Firefighters are pretty much the same across the country. We want to serve our community."
Word that veteran Garrison would become the next Houston fire chief came as a surprise to many city leaders. But they're not surprised it was someone from outside the department.
"I don't think it's inside, outside," Houston City Council Member Sue Lovell said. "I really think it's about looking at the resumes and qualifications and the new direction that the mayor wants the department to go in."
Garrison spent much of his career as an assistant fire chief in Phoenix. He left Phoenix in 2007 to accept the top fire job at Oceanside, a city near San Diego with a population of 173,000, compared to Houston's 2 million-plus. Oceanside has eight fire stations, with 110 full time firefighters, while Houston has 90 fire stations, and almost 4,000 firefighters. Garrison quit the Oceanside job in 2009, citing personal reasons.
"I wanted someone equally qualified, but with different experience," said Mayor Parker. "We are a very good fire department at fighting fires and responding to emergency calls."
Garrison takes over a department that has had its share of controvery recently, including allegations of sexist graffiti at one fire station.
"There are morale issues in the fire department having nothing to do with who the chief is," said Garrison. "We have to get past the issues that have been raised about racist behavior and sexist behavior."
Garrison takes over for Flanagan, who had run the department since the resignation of former Chief Phil Boriske.
Mayor Parker says city council will vote on confirmation of Garrison on September 15.
Reaction to hiring of Garrison
- "I believe the Houston Fire department will work with this guy on these issues because we, as a department, are fed up with being on the news for bad issues, racism, sexism, we're tired of it," said Gaylon Davenport, president of the Houston Black Firefighters' Association.
"I think as the chief, one of the things that the women in the deparmtment are looking for is support for some of the initiatives we're trying to work on, such as Camp Houston Fire and continued support for Third Saturday of the Month recruiting outreach initiative," Houston Fire Department Assistant Chief Karen DuPont. "We could certainly use more resources to go out and speak with women's athletic groups, softball teams. Again, it's really personnel and time and finding the right people to go out and make those contacts out in the community and encourage women to come apply.
Below is the full statement made by Chief Garrison this morning
- "First of all let me just say thank you very much Mayor Parker for entrusting me with what I think is the most important thing we have to do in the city of Houston and that is to take care of our people. That is what the fire department is really about. We are an organization that reaches out and takes care of the community and that is my goal. I would also like to thank members of council that have showed up and I have already had nice conversations them and they have also provided me with some direction already which is kind of exciting.
I would also like to thank my members of the staff of the Houston Fire Department. We have a session this morning and I'm getting to know them already and really look forward in working with them. They are leaders in the American fire service. My 33 plus years in the American Fire Service, I have looked at Houston many times to try to better myself and serve my community. So I'm looking forward in working with them.
My wife, Annette, and I are looking forward to moving to Houston and being a part of the community. We are going to embed ourselves here and be a part of this community whether it's for a year or hopefully five plus years and maybe beyond that. So we are really excited about being part of the community.
I understand the anxiety that maybe caused by having a fire chief to come from another agency but I understand that firefighters are pretty much the same across the country. We want to serve our community and I think we are going to get together and we are going to solve problems and we are going to meet with the community and really move forward the Houston fire department."
Below is Chief Garrison's response to a question from ABC13's Miya Shay on his experience
- "I was the interim chief in the Daisy Mountain Fire Department for the last several months at the request of the fire chief who found out he was in the last stages of cancer. He asked me to come in and fill in as his fire chief and run his organization for that short period of time. He lost his battle with cancer just a few weeks ago and there was nothing that was prouder for me to serve that community of 90 firefighters. They were protecting a community of a 100 square miles and some really great people. So that was a pleasure.
Prior to that, I was in California. They had about 130 firefighters in the third largest city in southern California. My wife and I had determined after several years there; it was a family decision. California was just not where we wanted to be.
I actually started my professional career at the age of 17, before hitting Texas as a crew chief in the U.S. Army. Since then, I've traveled back and forth to Texas for the Texas Engineering Extension Service. I worked for TEEX as an instructor observer and I was able to work with many communities in Texas and I always loved Texas. So for me to come back here is a great honor.
In Phoenix, I was the operations chief and Phoenix is the next size, following Houston and that is pretty much the largest department I worked for. I was the operations chief there. But while I was in Phoenix, I managed what was called the Regional Operation Consistency Committee and we have a very robust automatic aid system and I was able to lead that committee I was able to serve 28 different agencies and close to 100 fire stations there so I think that is where my greatest experience comes from obviously. I did learn a lot in the small towns that I worked with and I actually got my hands involved with some of the detail but the city of Phoenix and my 30 years there is probably the best preparation I had for meeting the goals for the city of Houston.