San Benito hires new fire chief

SAN BENITO — After nearly two years, there’s a new fire chief in town.

Earlier this week, city commissioners met behind closed doors with City Manager Manuel De La Rosa before naming former Houston Fire Department official Danny Dean Watkins the city’s fire chief.

“We made the decision based on Mr. Watkins’ overall experience in dealing with management of personnel, administrative responsibilities and fire suppression duties,” De La Rosa stated yesterday.

“The selection was not made by me alone but included fire command staff — lieutenants and captains. I look forward to working with him as he becomes San Benito’s new fire chief.”

Watkins, who served as a Houston Fire Department supervisor for 21 years, replaces former Fire Chief Raul Zuniga, who resigned more than a year after De La Rosa demoted him for bidding at a city auction in 2017.

Since Zuniga’s demotion in September 2017, two fire department officials have served as interim chief.

After Tuesday’s meeting, De La Rosa said he hired Watkins at an annual salary of $75,000.

With the Houston Fire Department, Watkins climbed the ranks from firefighter and engine operator to captain and district chief, his resume states.

“The experience gained in my tenure with the department has afforded me the opportunity to strengthen and develop my skills as firefighter, manager and chief officer for the department,” Watkins states in his resume. “I have been responsible for supervising, directing and leading as many as six stations with an average of 45 officers and firefighters in the district.”

Watkins described his leadership philosophy as “the servant-leadership model, where fire department leaders and managers lead by example to ensure that the fire department embraces foundational core principles for success reflective of a progressive 21st Century fire department,” the resume states.

“Leaders must have the moral courage to create a culture of integrity within their department. This is accomplished through strong leadership, moral accountability and respect for diversity within the workplace.”

Watkins holds an associate’s degree from Southern Bible College, a state firefighter’s certification from the Houston Fire Academy and basic peace officer’s certification from the University of Houston’s Criminal Justice Center.

Watkins replaces Zuniga, whom De La Rosa demoted to a captain’s rank in September 2018 for bidding at a fire department auction, although a city ordinance did not prohibit the practice at the time.

However, De La Rosa argued department heads required City Commission permission to place city equipment on auction.

Earlier this year, Zuniga announced he won a settlement stemming from a lawsuit in which he argued he was wrongfully demoted, in part as a result of his age.

After Zuniga’s demotion, De La Rosa appointed Capt. Boris Esparza to serve as interim chief.

In October 2018, De La Rosa appointed Lt. Adan Gonzalez Jr. interim chief after Esparza requested to step down from the position.