Baker grads lead KC fire, police departments

Fire Chief Berardi and Police Chief Forte

Throughout their parallel rise to leadership positions, Paul Berardi and Darryl Forte and have had lot in common.

Both born in 1962 and raised in Kansas City, Mo., the two developed an early admiration for the public servants in their communities and were fortunate to have positive influences in their lives. In the mid-1980s, Forte, ’97, and Berardi, ’93, joined the police and fire departments in their hometown, steadily moving up the ranks before recently earning the title of chief for their respective departments. They both earned degrees at Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies in the 1990s.

Forte Known for Attention to Detail

Forte, the police chief of KCMO since October 2011, earned a Master of Science in Management degree from Baker. The city’s 44th police chief proudly holds the distinction of being the city’s first African-American to hold that position.

“It shows what can be accomplished if you work hard,” Forte said of the honor. “People before me—black and white—prepared me for this. I had a lot of mentors take me by the hand and tell me what to do, and I listened. I try to do the same now, helping detectives and sergeants talk about their career development.”

Known for his meticulous attention to details and strong work ethic, Forte had a plan before he took over as chief. During his interview presentation, the candidate surprised the Board of Police Commissioners with a thorough 37-page document, including an outline of his five-year plan, “One Community, One Vision,” detailing 221 priority actions and nine individual strategic objectives.

“I have always been programmed to give more than is expected of me,” Forte said. “I wanted to contribute and lead an organization in a different direction and at a higher level. I want to give everything I have while I’m here with no regrets.”

Forte began developing his strategic plan years ago, taking notes as a patrol officer and interacting with community members. He was determined to learn how residents and police officers form stronger bonds in the neighborhoods. His surveys on the streets included such questions as whether the residents knew the police officers, what they wanted to change, what their relationship with police was and whether they could name an officer.

One of five children raised by a single mother, he remembers as a sixth-grader approaching police officers in his neighborhood at 76th and Monroe streets.

“I have been fascinated by police officers and wanted to talk to them, speed around in a patrol car and have a uniform on,” he recalled. “I always knew I wanted to help people after the time I went door to door raising money to help veterans.”

As the police chief, Forte oversees 1,400 sworn officers and 600 non-law enforcement personnel. He lauds the efforts of the 2,000 public employees under his command.

“They are the ones who make this work,” he said. “I am impressed by the work they do. They are great people and have great attitudes. If not for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Forte reflected fondly on his time working on his master’s degree at Baker in the mid-90s.

“Going through the Baker program helped me focus my time and prioritize,” he said. “You can’t function without having a plan. The camaraderie I had with the classmates in Overland Park helped me work better within a group setting.”

Berardi Strives for Efficiency

Promoted to fire chief in January after serving six months as interim fire chief and 11 years as deputy chief, Berardi, who earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Baker, has worked 26 years for the fire department. His father is a retired Kansas City firefighter and his brother is a battalion chief.

“I have always known that serving in the fire department could be a possibility,” Berardi proudly noted. “I treat this as an extremely rewarding career. You are not going to be rich doing this, but you have a chance to help people daily in emergency situations and make the department better and operate more efficiently. My education has taught me the right ways to develop and evaluate programs.”

During his career, he has specialized in homeland security, hazardous materials and disaster response. He has been a part of the Missouri Task Force One since 1999, responding to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and assisting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by coordinating efforts on an instant management team.

“In our role you have to quickly realize what resources are needed and develop a command structure to operate in an emergency situation,” Berardi said. “An effective structure enables everyone to come in and work efficiently so we’re not duplicating efforts.”

As the fire chief, Berardi is involved with helping complete the transition to a fully blended fire/ambulance service with about 1,300 employees. The KC Fire Department consists of 34 fire stations organized into seven battalions.

In another connection between the two chiefs, Berardi was rescued from a burning police office building in the summer of 1988. The building currently houses Forte’s office. Berardi did not think he was going to get out of the structure alive until someone saved him by putting an oxygen mask on his face and picking him up before they both escaped out of a window.

In similar emergencies, Berardi often thinks of the safety of other firefighters.

“Every time I took a step up in the ranks I was worried about the people under my charge as battalion and deputy chief,” said Berardi, who sends daily safety messages to his staff. “It is a dangerous job, but as I am sure Chief Forte feels, you learn to block it out and know how critical it is to help the community we serve.”

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