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Akron swears in Deputy Chief Leon Henderson as next fire chief

Akron Fire Chief Leon Henderson (left) raises his right hand as he's sworn in by Mayor Shammas Malik in front of an American flag.
City of Akron
Akron Fire Chief Leon Henderson is sworn in by Mayor Shammas Malik on June 7, 2024.

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik swore in the city's next fire chief on Friday, according to a press release from the city.

Deputy Chief Leon Henderson replaces former Chief Joseph Natko, who retired in March. Natko took a position in Malik's cabinet as Assistant to the Mayor for Emergency Management.

“Chief Henderson is a dedicated public servant with 34 years of service to the Akron community," Malik said in a press release. "He possesses the attitude, skillset and leadership qualities we were seeking for the role."

Deputy Chief Steven Kaut served as acting chief during the search process. The city only conducted an internal search due to a legal technicality that bars the mayor from hiring an external candidate for the top positions in the fire and police departments, which the law department found when looking into hiring a new fire chief. This caused tension between the community and the mayor's office as the police chief search moved internally.

Henderson will have responsibility for planning, organizing and providing direction and oversight for firefighting, fire prevention, emergency medical services, rescue, code enforcement, safety communications, emergency preparedness, disaster planning and other fire service activities, according to the press release.

Henderson has been with the Akron Fire Department since 1990, according to the press release. He's served as a firefighter/paramedic, dispatch supervisor lieutenant, captain safety officer, district chief and deputy chief, which he was promoted to in 2022. He's a graduate of Garfield High School and an Army veteran.

As deputy chief, Henderson fostered a culture of adaptive leadership and diversity, according to the press release. Under his leadership, the department achieved a 44% minority recruitment rate in the 2024 Akron Fire Department graduating class. He also served on the city's Racial Equity and Social Justice Taskforce.

The city will hold a ceremonial swearing-in celebration in the coming weeks, according to the press release.

The community will get the chance to meet Henderson and ask him questions at a town hall on July 10 from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m. at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, according to the press release.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.