New Pittsburgh assistant fire chief begins amid synagogue tragedy
Brian Kokkila offered to start his new job early.
Formally sworn in Friday as the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire’s new assistant chief, Kokkila’s first day on the job was Oct. 29.
He volunteered to start two days before that after waking up Oct. 27 to news of the horror in progress at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue, where a gunman would kill 11 people and injure six others.
Kokkila said he wanted to do something to help.
“One of the first things I did was reach out and make sure if there was anything I could to do help out,” Kokkila said. “When I was told they were in good shape, there wasn’t much I needed to do. It was just overwhelming to realize an event like this occurred in the city.”
Like the rest of Pittsburgh, he said, he was in shock.
Although he’s a Washington County native, Kokkila considers himself a Pittsburgher, and his position as Deputy Chief of Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue’s local Strike Team 1 has had him in close contact with members of Pittsburgh public safety for years.
Kokkila said he walked into his new role two days after the tragedy “slowly and carefully,” he said. Public safety is a family, regardless of one’s newness, he said, and he tried to just be supportive while everyone worked through and dealt with the shooting.
And, he said, he was proud.
“There’s a lot of pride,” he said. “You look at the responders and what they accomplished on that Saturday – it’s really just an immense sense of pride to be part of the Public Safety Department and work with so many great people.”
Kokkila, 41, has spent the last two decades with the Peters Township fire department. He said the chance to work with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire was “a great opportunity to move into a larger role with a great organization.”
“It’s a huge department,” he said. “It has incredible history, and just incredible folks all through it, so to be part of that is just humbling.”
Kokkila was sworn in by Mayor Bill Peduto on Friday, along with four men who were promoted to captain and six who were promoted to lieutenant.
“For the lieutenants and captains … you’re our first line of defense,” said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich. “The decisions that you make – whether it be on the truck, ladder or now fire boat – the decisions made in the first five to 10 to 15 minutes are potentially going to dictate the outcome of the incident.”
Those promoted were:
Capt. Richard Fitzgerald
Capt. Che Long
Capt. Stephen Grenesko
Capt. Kenneth Walz
Lt. Thomas Wilson
Lt. Sean O’Leary
Lt. Matthew Burford
Lt. Edward Hurley
Lt. Christopher Pedrotty
Lt. Jeremy Manke
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.