Fort Lauderdale gets first female fire chief in department's 106-year history

Rhoda Mae Kerr returns to where firefighter career began in 1983

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Rhoda Mae Kerr is leaving her job as fire chief of the City of Austin to become the city of Fort Lauderdale's first female fire chief in the 106-year history of the department, the city announced Wednesday afternoon.  

Fort Lauderdale Fire Chief Robert Hoecherl, who has served in the position since 2013, is retiring. Kerr will begin to lead the Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Department's staff of 450 firefighters and administrative personnel July 1. 

"Her decades of distinguished service, exemplary leadership, and commitment to community engagement will be a tremendous asset in her new role," City Manager Lee Feldman said in a statement. 

Kerr was also the first woman to be  elected president and chair of the board of directors of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) in the association's 142-year history. She was elected in 2015.  

Kerr, a fourth-generation firefighter, was a coach and physical education teacher for 12 years before becoming a Fort Lauderdale firefighter in 1983. She also worked as a driver and engineer, and was promoted to lieutenant, battalion chief and division chief. 

She earned an associate's degree from Broward Community College, a bachelor's degree in physical education and health from William Paterson University and a master's degree in public administration from Florida International University.

Kerr served as fire chief of Little Rock, Arkansas from 2004 to 2009 before moving to Austin to lead one of the 20 largest fire departments in the country. Austin's fire department has about 1,200 sworn personnel, 113 civilian personnel and 47 fire stations.

She received two certifications from the Harvard University program for senior executives in state and local government, and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's executive fire officer program. 

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The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.