Iowa City Fire Chief Will Retire After Nearly 35 Years

By Erin Jordan, Reporter

Iowa City Fire Chief Andy Rocca (right) and Fire Marshal John Grier (left) work in the command van as firefighters battle a two alarm fire at Dental Lab Inc. at 1515 Jackson Ave. Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 in Iowa City. The business and two apartments connected to it were total a total loss. The cause of the fire , which is believed to have started in the kitchen of one of the apartments, is under investigation. (Brian Ray/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Liz Blood

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa City Fire Chief Andy Rocca, an Iowa City native who has served with the city's fire department for nearly 35 years, has announced he will retire May 13.

Rocca joined the department in 1978 as a firefighter. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1987, followed by a series of other promotions, including battalion chief and fire marshal. He was named fire chief in 1996.

“He’s well-known, he’s well-liked in the community and the department, and he’s done a great job in developing a really fine operation,” City Manager Tom Markus said.

Markus said there are solid internal candidates to replace Rocca, but he likely will do a national search. If an Iowa City firefighter ends up being selected, that person will have competed against the best candidates and it will make the new chief and department stronger, he said.

Rocca oversees a 65-member department, as well as emergency medical services, hazardous materials response and technical rescue. The department has four fire stations and a training center.

Rocca led the department during high-profile fires, including the March 1999 blaze that destroyed a downtown building that housed Mondo's Sports Cafe and several levels of apartments. One of the largest fires in eastern Iowa, the blaze caused $4.76 million damage and left more than a dozen residents homeless.

The same month, Iowa City firefighters fought a fire set by Jonathan Memmer to conceal the bodies of two women he murdered in an apartment left vacant over spring break 1999.

In more recent years, the department battled a September 2011 fire that started in Breugger's on Iowa Avenue and damaged several historic buildings. A weeks-long blaze at the Iowa City Landfill last spring also taxed the Iowa City Fire Department.

The department was awarded Accredited Agency Status in 2008, becoming one of only 128 agencies worldwide to be recognized as such by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, the city reported. The Insurance Services Office, which conducts insurance risk analyses for businesses and municipalities, upgraded Iowa City’s Public Protection Classification to a Level 2. Nationwide, only 716 fire-protection areas, or less than 1.5 percent of the 48,000 areas reviewed, achieve Level 1 or Level 2 status.

Gazette reporter Gregg Hennigan contributed to this report.

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