It's been a rough few years for the San Jose Fire Department, from taking engines out of service, to pay cuts and now the department's fire chief announced Thursday that he's leaving.
Willie McDonald has been San Jose's fire chief for almost three years, but Thursday, the 55-year-old husband and father announced he's agreed to take a job as the fire chief in Las Vegas.
McDonald told KTVU his decision to leave was a difficult one to make.
"I really wrestled with it for quite a while because I really love the city of San Jose," he said.
McDonald has worn many helmets in his 35-year career, serving as fire chief for Fremont, San Mateo and Foster City, among others.
KTVU asked him if city budget cuts and tense union negotiations had any impact on his departure.
"Really my time here in San Jose has been excellent and I really will miss it, so no it's more about an opportunity there than anything here," he said.
McDonald's decision comes on the heels of the Police Chief Chris Moore's retirement in January.
"I think they're entirely independent," said David Vossbrink, San Jose communications director. "We saw Chief Moore retire last year. Here we have Chief McDonald pursuing a new opportunity in a different city."
Vossbrink admits there is still no list of candidates for police chief and now San Jose will be launching its second search for a public safety leader.
The firefighters union has had bitter negotiations with City Hall, and it suggests city leadership played a role in the chief's decision.
"I don't know of many organizations that can be successful when the leadership of the organization vilifies their employees ," said Robert Sapien, president of the San Jose firefighters union. "I think he may be going somewhere where that's not happening."
"They're just so well-positioned, it seems I'll be looking back at it if I don't go," McDonald added.
McDonald plans to stay until August.
Instead of the $200,000 salary McDonald currently makes, he'll actually be making less -- about $150,000 a year in his new role.
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