2017 Tribute to Leadership Honoree – Phoenix Fire Chief Kalkbrenner


Phoenix Fire Chief Kalkbrenner is one of a small group of female Fire Chiefs who lead major municipalities. The Phoenix Fire Department is a community based organization with 57 fire stations throughout the City’s 520 square miles, serving 1.5 Million residents. It is considered one of the premier emergency response organizations in North America.  The Fire Chief’s priority is to provide the highest level of fire and life safety protection, prevention, and education to the residents of Phoenix.

Kara Kalkbrenner is a native Phoenician who feels very fortunate to have the privilege to protect and serve this community. She grew up in Maryvale where she was exposed to a diverse society which taught her to appreciate the different viewpoints and opinions of others. These lessons helped her develop the skills to be a true servant leader.  Kara’s parents were strong role models. Kara’s Mother and maternal Grandmother were both registered nurses who taught her the value of serving others.

As a young woman, Kara excelled at competitive sports and academics. It was purely by chance that a friend’s parents suggested she look in to firefighting. Their daughter had recently joined the Phoenix Fire Department and they thought it might appeal to Kara. The department was recruiting women to build diversity. They knew that Kara possessed the traits that the Phoenix Fire Department sought in employees which are physical strength, moral character, and an outstanding work ethic. After looking in to the department and learning about the job, Kara quickly determined she had found her calling.  She became a Phoenix Fire Department cadet and volunteered thousands of hours before she was fortunate to be hired as a young firefighter in 1985.

With nearly 32 years of Public Safety service, 17 years as a Chief Officer, Kara considers herself a community stakeholder who plays an integral role in shaping public safety response for the valley.  Her ascension through the ranks included holding the ranks of Firefighter, Fire Engineer, Fire Captain, Division Chief, Assistant Chief, and Executive Assistant Chief.  Kara has served in each operational capacity within the Department’s six divisions including Operations (Fire and Emergency Medical Services response), Fire Prevention, Human Resources, Physical Resource Management, Information Technology, and Training.  She possesses a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Fire Service Management from Ottawa University and an Associates in Applied Sciences Degree in Fire Service from Phoenix Community College.

A few of Chief Kalkbrenner’s responsibilities include;

  • Manage an annual budget of over $316 million.
  • Provide management and leadership to 2,000 sworn and civilian personnel.
  • Provide innovation, forward thinking and leadership for the fire service.
  • Carefully manage and steward tax payer resources.
  • Work closely with other City department heads to enhance city services.
  • Support the fire department’s dynamic automatic aid system with a safe, effective dispatch and deployment model.
  • Build and maintain relationships with the Phoenix Mayor, City Council, City Manager’s Office, Labor Unions, along with public and private agencies.
  • Develop and maintain, in conjunction with labor, the strategic plan for the Phoenix Fire Department.


  • Member, International Association of Fire Chiefs
  • Member, International Association of Firefighters
  • Member, Instructor National Fire Protection Association
  • Instructor, National Fire Protection Association
  • Member, Metro Chiefs
  • Member, Arizona Fire Chiefs Association
  • Arizona Republic monthly contributing columnist
  • Member, Valley Leadership & Alumni Class 24
  • Member, Arizona Ambulance Association
  • Adjunct Instructor Phoenix College, Phoenix College, Phoenix, AZ


  • Instrumental in submittal and subsequent awards of 38 Million dollars in SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grants since 2009, resulting in 148 new Firefighter positions.
  • Developed strong relationships with other City of Phoenix partners including Aviation, Law, Labor Relations, Human Resources, Planning, Water, and Phoenix Police Departments.
  • Managed the Physical Resource Management Division which oversees 75 PFD properties, a fleet of more than 500 vehicles, procurement, and purchasing.
  • Participated in 2006 Bond Program. Oversaw 91 million dollars in expenditures.
  • City Hall Liaison.
  • Planning and development of 2008 Super Bowl, 2009 MLB All-star game, and 2011 NBA All-star game.
  • Member of the 2015 Super Bowl Executive Committee.
  • Member of 2016 Democratic National Convention site visit committee.
  • Member of Special Agency Coordinator, FEMA, Urban Search and Rescue teams.
  • Creation of the Phoenix Incident Management Team (IMT) used for all major event planning.
  • Deployment of members to NYC 9/11; New Orleans; Texas; Redding, California, and Hurricane Sandy.
  • Deployment of members to large scale in and out of state wildfires and disasters including Prescott/Yarnell tragedy.
  • Representative for PFD IMT for the city’s monsoon/flood recovery information center.
  • Participated in the development and implementation of the City of Phoenix Strategic Plan.
  • Oversaw the development of the Phoenix Fire Department (PFD) Professional Standards Guide.