Interim chief will be first woman to lead KCFD in more than 150-year history

Crews respond to kitchen fire at Charlie Hooper’s in Brookside

Kansas City Fire Department crews responded to a kitchen fire at Charlie Hooper's in Brookside on Father's Day, Sunday, June 16, 2019.
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Kansas City Fire Department crews responded to a kitchen fire at Charlie Hooper's in Brookside on Father's Day, Sunday, June 16, 2019.

Donna Maize, a 26-year veteran of the Kansas City Fire Department, has been named interim chief, according to city officials.

Maize is the first woman to lead the fire department in any capacity since its inception more than 150 years ago.

Her appointment represents a significant milestone for a department that at one time was known for blatant sexual harassment and abusive treatment of women firefighters.

In 2001 and 2002, juries awarded verdicts in favor of two female firefighters who complained of sex discrimination.

More recently, the fire department has faced other problems. A federal lawsuit filed last year alleged that African-American firefighters were discriminated against when seeking promotions. In 2017 the department lost a similar lawsuit, resulting in a $356,694 award to a black firetruck driver.

In the past year, a fire captain has been indicted on charges of illegal arms sales and a firefighter has been charged with body slamming and punching a woman during a road rage incident.

Maize replaces Gary Reese, who announced last month that he was stepping down after serving less than two years as the city’s fire chief.

Maize most recently served as an assistant city manager for public safety.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas congratulated Maize on Twitter.

“[Kansas City] is lucky to have you and we’re proud of her stewardship of some important issues for the future of our community.”

“KCFD has been a part of my life since birth when the selection of my first name was made by the firefighters that worked with my father,” Maize in a message posted on the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 42 Facebook page.

“I’ve grown up knowing and being influenced by some of the greatest people in the firefighting and emergency medical service professions,” she said. “To be able to lead KCFD today and into the future is humbling at best.”

Maize earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Central Missouri. She began working for the fire department in 1992 and was named assistant fire chief in 2014. In that role, Maize managed a $166.6 million budget.

As an assistant city manager, Maize oversaw nearly $40 million in upgrades to replace aging and outdated fire trucks and ambulances. She also upgraded three fire department facilities to gender-neutral standards.

Gary Reese was named fire chief in March 2018, replacing former chief Paul Berardi, who retired after working 32 years with the department.

Prior to his appointment, Reese had worked for Kansas City fire for 23 years, most recently as a division chief.

A national search is underway for a new chief. Maize has indicated that she’s not planning to apply for the job.

A single mother of three, she also earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Kansas.

“As I take on this role and begin working with administration and labor to further develop vision and direction for KCFD, just know that at the heart of it all will be the continuation of our shared passion for providing the best service and care to the residents of Kansas City, Missouri,” Maize said.

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Glenn E. Rice covers crime, courts and breaking news for The Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 1988. Rice is a Kansas City native and a graduate of the University of Central Missouri.