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Mayor Hancock Appoints Longtime Denver Firefighter as New Chief

Desmon Fulton will serve as the city's new fire chief.
Desmon Fulton will serve as the city's new fire chief.
Courtesy of Mike Strott

More than six months after the last Denver fire chief resigned, Mayor Michael Hancock has chosen a new head of the Denver Fire Department, which is responsible not just for fighting fires, but also responding to medical emergencies and other duties.

At a press conference on October 8, Hancock introduced Desmond Fulton, a longtime member of the DFD who had been serving as deputy chief, as the person who will lead that department going forward. Fulton has "shown his commitment to our community and equity and to working to build a more inclusive department that reflects the community it serves," Hancock said before handing over the mic.

Fulton noted that he's proud of the men and women with whom he's served, but said he also recognizes that there are certain cultural challenges within the department. "We’re in a different environment and different times. And we need to do a better job of appreciating each other and appreciating each other’s differences. It’s these differences that give us our strength and make us who we are as a department," said Fulton, who began working as a Denver firefighter in 1998.

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The City of Denver has faced several lawsuits in recent years claiming either gender or racial discrimination within the fire department. In 2016, a former female firefighter filed a gender discrimination lawsuit that resulted in a payout of almost a million dollars in October 2019. Recently, two former department employees, both Black women, filed a lawsuit alleging racial and gender discrimination.

The previous chief, Eric Tade, announced that he'd be stepping down in February, following a firefighters' union party that allegedly featured sexual innuendo. Both Tade and Todd Bower, who stepped in as interim chief, are still working for the department in the roles they held before becoming chief.

With the fire chief job filled, the revolving door of Department of Public Safety officials that started spinning in September 2019 has finally come to a halt.

Just over a year ago, the city announced that Sheriff Patrick Firman would be stepping down. (He, too, remains in the city's employ.) This past January, Troy Riggs, the executive director of the Department of Public Safety, which is responsible for overseeing the fire, sheriff and police departments, announced that he was leaving for the private sector. After Tade resigned, that left two of the city's three public safety departments, as well as Public Safety itself, without a permanent head; only the top slot at the Denver Police Department was filled, by Chief Paul Pazen.

In May, Hancock appointed Murphy Robinson to head the Department of Public Safety; a former police officer, Robinson had been head of the city's General Services Department before he was tapped to serve as the interim executive director of Public Safety. Then in July, Elias Diggins, a longtime member of the Denver Sheriff Department and onetime interim sheriff, was named permanent sheriff.

The appointment of Fulton to the post of fire chief could be the last major appointment that Hancock is able to make without the approval of Denver City Council. In Denver's strong-mayor system, the mayor historically has been able to appoint and remove department heads at will. However, a measure on the city's November ballot asks voters to give council approval authority over key mayoral appointees, such as the fire chief, head of Public Safety and city attorney.

The ballot measure is part of council's efforts to pull some power from the executive branch. The mayor's office has questioned the merit of the proposal, saying it could make recruitment of qualified individuals more difficult.

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