OAKLAND, Calif. - The Oakland Fire Department announced Damon Covington for the permanent position of fire chief, after months of serving as the interim chief. Chief Covington was officially sworn in on Thursday.
"This is a dream job. It was a dream job when I became a firefighter, and it’s been a dream job every step of the way," said Chief Covington.
Chief Covington is a 24-year veteran of OFD, who has served in every position, from Firefighter-Paramedic, Fire Engineer, Lieutenant, Captain, Captain of Training, Battalion Chief, Special Operations Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, and most recently Interim Fire Chief.
"I’ve been in every one of those ranks to understand what each one of those ranks requires, how we can help them be better and what we can do to help the department move forward," he said.
He grew up in ‘The Town’ and is a graduate of Bishop O’Dowd High School. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Sonoma State University and a Master’s degree in Executive Public Administration from Golden Gate University.
"It really means something that I grew up in the Oakland fire department because I understand our traditions. I understand what makes us tick, what makes us unique, but I also understand where we can get better," he said.
KTVU reporter Crystal Bailey sat down with him one-on-one at Station 20, a firehouse on the corner of 98th Avenue and International where he spent 6 years of his career in. She asked what his goals are for the department. He’s had some time to think about it, as he’s been interim chief since June 2023.
"The same 25 engines and 7 trucks have had 25 years ago that’s the staffing level we’ve had. As the city gets bigger and we have more demand on the 911 system, we want to make sure we meet that demand and that requires having additional fire houses," said Chief Covington.
He said he is pushing for updated apparatus, as much of their units are outdated.
"A truck costs almost 2 million," he said.
Chief Covington said he is surveying data from every fire house to determine needs and areas of improvements for the department.
On top of that, with an average of about 250 calls for service each day, he wants his overworked staff to get the help they need – addressing mental health and mandatory overtime.
"We really want to get aggressive with our staffing so people can to the point where they can do their two shifts and then go home and have work-life balance," said the Chief.
The department received a $27.4 million grant to hire 35 new firefighters, so he’s already working on recruiting a diverse class.
"If you’re a citizen of Oakland and you want to serve your city, we want to have you in our fire department," he said. "We want every part of the population in our fire department because we feel that it makes us a better department and a stronger department."
The Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland, or MACRO, just completed its pilot program. The team, launched in April 2022, is made up of trauma-informed civilians and EMTs who respond to non-violent, non-emergency 911 calls. Looking ahead, the new chief is looking to improve it.
"We’re hiring an additional 16 members for the MACRO team because we want to have more shifts, we want to have a bigger presence throughout the city of Oakland," he said.
Oakland will celebrate chief Covington’s new appointment with a swearing in ceremony in early November.