City Manager Debra Figone today announced the appointment of William “Willie” McDonald to be San José’s next Fire Chief.

McDonald, who is a 32-year veteran of the fire service, has served as Fire Chief for the past 17 years in three California cities as well as in Scottsdale, Arizona, his current post.

McDonald was selected following a national search that attracted 32 candidates from across the country.   He rose to the top following a public process that included six community meetings and several interview panels.

“My goal has been to get a big-picture thinker with a breadth of solid fire experience who is not afraid to tackle difficult issues.”  Figone said in announcing the appointment.  “Willie has the experience, knowledge and leadership skills to build strong relationships with our firefighters while managing the challenging problems that face a large metropolitan fire department during fiscally challenging times.”

McDonald, who has a Masters Degree in Business Administration, led and managed Scottsdale’s transition in 2005 from private fire protection to the City’s first full service municipal fire and emergency services department. 

In addition to managing the successful transition, he created the City’s first performance-based Emergency Ambulance Service model (based on clinical criteria and performance measures), and instituted a Fire Department Labor/Management Team to foster a positive relationship with employees.  He also developed response standards, performance measures and service level objectives as part of a Fire Station and Resource Location study.  In addition, he developed and implemented a Fire Department Strategic Plan to direct and guide future fire operations.

During his extensive career as Fire Chief in a number of California cities, McDonald has successfully navigated significant budget shortfalls by working cooperatively with the Fire union to maintain service levels.  He played a key role in the development of a Joint Powers Authority for Emergency Medical Services, bringing every City and Fire Department in San Mateo County together to provide Advanced Life Support services. 

This led to a public-private partnership for EMS services across the County.  He has developed a reputation for building strong relationships with community members, businesses, and fire department employees.  In fact, during the recruitment process McDonald emphasized his strong belief that positive labor relations are the key to a successful organization.

“The members of the department that actually provide the service are critical in developing and creating practical solutions to our problems,” said McDonald.  “I believe that meaningful collaboration encourages employee engagement and results in better decisions.”

McDonald, who is married with two college-aged children, will take over the permanent position effective August 2.  He replaces Darryl Von Raesfeld who will retire on June 26th following a 33-year career in San Jose, the last four as Chief.