The Laguna Beach fire chief will retire after a 36-year career in public service, including more than four years at the helm of the small Coastal Fire Agency, city officials announced Thursday.
Fire Chief Mike Garcia is set to retire on July 1, according to a news release. This is the same date that Laguna Beach will launch its in-house ambulance team. As the 19th Laguna Beach Fire Chief, Garcia took over the service of Acting Fire Chief Tom Christopher in May 2018 after a 32-year career with the Long Beach Fire Department.
“Laguna Beach is a beautiful city and a wonderful community filled with passionate and caring people,” Garcia said in a press release. “I have truly enjoyed my many interactions with members of the community and will miss many of them.”
Garcia led the agency through two years of an unprecedented pandemic that put firefighters, paramedics and engineers at personal risk of contracting the coronavirus. The Department continued to move through a busier pace with calls related to COVID-19, as well as the usual service calls related to traffic collisions, fires, ocean-related injuries and routine medical emergencies.
“I couldn’t have asked to work with a more caring, compassionate and committed group of people like I did with the Laguna Beach Fire Department,” Garcia said in a press release.
In addition to day-to-day administration, Garcia also helped implement recommendations from a 2019 report on wildfire safety and mitigation.
The importance of the report was reinforced during a January 2019 visit by Garcia, then Mayor Bob Whalen, then City Manager John Pietig, and other city staff to the town of Paradise after the campfire. devastating.
Laguna Beach has completed the expansion of its Outdoor Warning System, an array of building-mounted loudspeakers that broadcast evacuation orders during forest fires, debris slides and tsunamis.
City Council also approved the purchase of a mobile water tank system, called the HeloPod Dip Tank, which can be positioned during peak fire conditions to automatically fill firefighting helicopters without requiring them to to land.
The growing chain of city-built wildfire fuel modification zones has also been a central project of Garcia’s tenure.
As the city attempted to implement defensible space guidelines required by Assembly Bill 28, Garcia and his department faced public backlash from property owners upset at the prospect of having to tear down trees. and other landscaping deemed hazardous to structures and firefighters. Garcia insisted the local plan was needed to protect Laguna Beach’s unique aesthetic from a more onerous plan created by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Critics voiced a list of grievances ranging from private property rights to concerns about shade removal in the context of climate change to the lack of definitive exceptions for well-irrigated gardens. In September 2021, City Council voted to approve the Defensible Space Guidelines advanced by the Fire Department, which now require a wildfire inspection as a condition of closing the receivership.
“What we want to do for the next few years is we want to focus on education,” Garcia told board members last year. “We believe that with simple tweaks it can still be beautiful – and I know there are differences of opinion on this – but really with simple tweaks our community can be safer.”
City of Laguna Beach officials congratulate Garcia on his successful career and wish him well in retirement, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said in a news release.
“We are very grateful to have had Chief Garcia’s guidance, leadership and fire expertise for the past four years at Laguna Beach,” said Dupuis.
Garcia holds a Bachelor of Science in Professional Education from California State University, Long Beach. He is also a member of the Orange County Association of Fire Chiefs.
The city plans to conduct a nationwide investigation for Garcia’s successor. Garcia was not available for an interview via Zoom or by phone this week, a city spokesperson said.
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