Berkeley’s fire chief is leaving to take over top fire spot in Piedmont

Dave Brannigan has served as chief for three years.

Fire Chief David Brannigan stands in front of Fire Truck
Berkeley Fire Chief David Brannigan is stepping down as chief to take over the helm of the Piedmont Fire Department. Photo: Daphne White

David Brannigan, who has served as Berkeley’s fire chief for the last three years, is stepping down to take over as fire chief for the city of Piedmont. Abraham Roman, Berkeley’s deputy fire chief, will assume the position of interim head of the department.

Brannigan said his new role will allow him to spend more time with his family as the demands of the job will be less. Piedmont’s single fire station is about a mile from Brannigan’s Oakland home and serves a much smaller area than Berkeley — one square mile large compared to Berkeley’s 11 square miles. Moreover, Piedmont’s population is one-tenth the size of Berkeley’s, he said.

Brannigan said it is “a hard time to leave Berkeley” since the department has made progress in “evolving its fire response to the changing climate in California.” Money coming from Measure FF, which Berkeley voters overwhelmingly passed last November, is a huge help. The measure generates $8.5 million annually from a parcel tax.  The Berkeley Fire Department will use the money to improve fire services, emergency response, 911 communication, hazard mitigation and wildfire prevention.

But Roman has experience in those areas, having served 10 years in wildfire operations before coming to the Berkeley Fire Department, where he has worked for 20 years, said Brannigan.

“I am leaving the department in good hands,” said Brannigan. Roman, he said, “is an incredibly confident and inspirational fire department leader.”

Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley said in a memo that she accepted Brannigan’s resignation with “sadness.”

“Chief Brannigan and I have worked tirelessly over the past three years, with all of you, in an effort to enhance and modernize the Fire Department,” Williams-Ridley wrote. “I plan to continue that progressive work with interim Fire Chief Abe Roman.”

Brannigan’s departure leaves vacancies at the top of both of Berkeley’s public safety departments. Andrew Greenwood retired as chief of the police department in early March. Capt. Jen Louis was appointed interim police chief.

Berkeley will now have to conduct two nationwide searches simultaneously.

Brannigan has worked for the Berkeley Fire Department for 19 years and has served in a number of positions, including in the emergency medical services division and the office of emergency services, according to a Piedmont press release announcing his selection. The Piedmont City Council is scheduled to vote Monday on Brannigan’s appointment.

“Under his leadership, the city adopted its first Emergency Operations Plan and expanded public disaster preparedness to previously under-represented vulnerable populations,” according to the Piedmont press release. “Since his appointment in 2018, Chief Brannigan has led the Berkeley Fire Department through multiple unprecedented wildland fire seasons, numerous periods of civil unrest, and the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Brannigan also played a critical role in helping Berkeley ramp up its COVID-19 testing services.

His last day in Berkeley is April 23.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.