Update: Departing Berkeley fire chief to join San Rafael Fire

Abraham Roman will assume the position of deputy chief of operations at the San Rafael Fire Department on June 27. 

Berkeley Fire Chief Abe Roman. File photo credit: Emilie Raguso

Update, June 23 Berkeley Fire Chief Abraham Roman, who announced he’d be stepping down earlier this month, has taken a new job as deputy chief of operations at the San Rafael Fire Department. He will start on June 27. 

“Chief Roman has background and experience and has been well received by his peers and by all that he’s come in contact with when it comes to his career in the fire service, ranging from people on the peninsula to people in the North Bay to people in the East Bay,” said San Rafael Fire Department Fire Chief Darin White. “As such, he’s very well qualified to assist us with many of our operational needs here in our organization, so we’re looking forward to his arrival on his ability to help move our department forward.”

Original post, June 14 Abraham Roman, who has served as Berkeley’s fire chief for 14 months, will step down from his position and retire from the department after 23 years. David Sprague, Berkeley’s deputy fire chief, will take over as interim chief starting June 25.

Roman cited “personal reasons” for his departure in a memo sent to city employees Monday evening, saying he is “moving on to the next phase” of his life. 

“It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing my retirement from the City of Berkeley,” he wrote in the memo. “This has been the most difficult decision I have made in my career as a Firefighter.”

Roman did not respond to Berkeleyside’s interview requests for this story. 

Roman was appointed Berkeley Fire’s interim chief in April 2021 when former Fire Chief Dave Brannigan left to become the Piedmont fire chief. Brannigan had been Berkeley’s fire chief for three years. 

Outgoing Berkeley Fire Chief Abraham Roman. Credit: Berkeley Fire

After a nationwide search, the Berkeley City Council confirmed Roman as fire chief in October 2021 with an annual salary of $268,990.

“Chief Roman has demonstrated exemplary leadership in managing and directing operations and activities of the Fire Department during very critical times that consisted of responding to the COVID 19 pandemic along with the many Wildfires that have consumed California over the last two years,” City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley wrote in an October memo recommending Roman’s confirmation as fire chief. 

Roman has, in his tenure, worked in every rank within Berkeley’s fire department and, as chief, led a staff of 153.

Williams-Ridley praised Roman’s work leading the “operationalizing” of Measure FF, an $8.5-million-per-year emergency services parcel tax passed by voters in 2020. In addition to paying for a new training facility, buying new ambulances and hiring new staff, much of the money from the measure is going toward wildfire preparedness

“We know we have big challenges ahead,” Roman told Berkeleyside earlier this month. “We will continue to have Diablo winds, which will push fire quickly down the hill. And, on top of that, climate change is definitely here. Our multi-year drought is drying out our plants and vegetation. We all have to adapt to this new normal.”

Sprague, Berkeley’s new fire chief, joined the department in 2001 and has served as a firefighter, paramedic supervisor, fire captain and assistant chief of training and emergency medical services. After Hurricane Katrina, he went to the Gulf Coast as part of a search and rescue task force.

Sprague was also active in the Berkeley firefighters union for 13 years and, in 2008, according to Roman’s departure memo, helped the union and city come together over Measure GG, which levied a $3.6 million parcel tax to fund fire protection and emergency response, institute mandatory staffing minimums and end rotating closures of the city’s fire departments. 

“[Sprague] has always been an engaged member of the organization that believes in working with the members and stakeholders to make our service to the community and our organization better,” Roman wrote in his memo. 

When Sprague takes over the top fire job, Assistant Fire Chief Keith May will become interim deputy fire chief. 

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. Email: iris@berkeleyside.org.