After 45 minutes of mostly gentle questioning, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14 to 0 Tuesday to appoint Douglas L. Barry as chief of the Fire Department.
Shortly after the vote, Barry was sworn into office by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at a ceremony outside City Hall. Barry, 54, is the first African American to serve as chief of the department, which has more than 3,900 firefighters.
Barry has served as the interim chief since the beginning of the year, after his predecessor, William Bamattre, was forced by Villaraigosa to retire amid allegations of racial and sexual harassment within the department.
The city paid $12.8 million in the last fiscal year in settlements and damages from such claims, and the total may continue to grow.
A lawsuit brought by firefighter Tennie Pierce, who alleges he was fed dog food by colleagues as part of a racial prank, is to go to trial next week unless a settlement is reached.
Villaraigosa said Tuesday that he believes "the city's position on the matter is both strong and just."
Barry joined the Fire Department in 1975 and quickly began to rise through the ranks, becoming a captain in 1986. He had been planning to retire next year, but last month Villaraigosa decided to scrap a national search for Bamattre's replacement and instead offer the job to Barry.
The council's confirmation was a foregone conclusion. Councilman Jack Weiss, a staunch Villaraigosa ally, began by introducing Barry as the next fire chief, and it was clear that no council member opposed his appointment.
At one point, Councilman Tom LaBonge asked Barry, "What made you want to be a firefighter?"
"Really?" Barry answered, clearly expecting a harder question.
Concerns over hazing and harassment did surface, however.
Councilman Tony Cardenas asked, "How long do you think you're going to need before you can come before this council and tell us that you have stamped that out?"
Barry said he could not promise such incidents would not happen again because of the department's size. But there will be "a reduction in the frequency and the degree of these type of situations, and when people do violate the rules they will be dealt with swiftly and firmly," he said.
Councilman Richard Alarcon said he was not persuaded the lawsuits would stop.
"The rhetoric is there, but you're not going to train this problem away," he said. "I think you need to scare it away, and I think you need to take some severe action on the perpetrators of these kind of acts."