National City, Calif. --
The man hired to replace National City's retiring fire chief has no fire experience, the 10News I-Team learned.
Frank Parra has been a National City councilman for eight years and has worked as an emergency medical technician for over 20 years. However, he is not a fireman.
Chris Zapata, National City's city manager who hired Parra told the I-Team, the new hire doesn't need fire experience.
"You have battalion chiefs, captains and fire fighters who actually fight the fires," Zapata said.
The job title has been changed from fire chief to emergency services director, and Parra will earn a salary of $119,000 a year, which he said will be a small pay cut.
The search for a new chief was not extensive, and Zapata said the firm hired to find a new fire chief was called off. Parra was the only candidate considered.
"Frank was the only person I wanted to hire," Zapata said. "I made the offer and he accepted."
Zapata said he believes the community needs someone with an EMS background because EMS calls are the majority of their calls. The I-Team checked and found the National City Fire Department received 9,000 emergency medical response calls and 5,000 fire calls over the past three years.
When the Zapata offered the new job to Parra, he essentially hired his boss. Zapata was appointed to his city manager job by Parra and other members of the National City City Council.
Before he could get the job, Parra needed the approval of his co-workers on the city council. They approved, but the only other hurdle was to get the approval of Parra's peers on the city council -- and they said OK.
Parra thinks his employee is doing the right thing.
National City resident Herman Baca sent a letter to the city council, saying the job appointment "smacks of a political backroom deal that stinks to high heaven."
The National City Firefighters' Union supports Parra as their next boss. At a recent firefighters' convention in San Diego, the I-Team spoke with firefighters from outside the county who think a fire chief should have extensive experience.
Michael Dyer, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief said, "I think a fire chief has to have a combination of fire experience, EMS experience ... everything."
The I-Team checked local fire department chiefs' backgrounds and found the two largest cities in the county, San Diego and Chula Vista, both neighbors to National City, have fire chiefs with 50 years of firefighting experience.
Parra maintains his 20-plus years in emergency services makes him qualified, and told the I-Team, "I understand the department. I understand what the needs are."
Parra starts his new job in early April.
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