SLO Fire Chief Keith Aggson announces retirement
Aggson previously had worked in Atascadero, Templeton, Paso Robles
– Following a 34-year career in the fire service, City of San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Keith Aggson has announced plans to retire in November.
He has had an illustrious career on the Central Coast, working in the communities of Atascadero, Templeton, and Paso Robles before he began leading the City of San Luis Obispo Fire Department in 2017.
“When I arrived here, SLO had a great Fire Department. It has been my honor to work with the team to build upon that standard of excellence so we can be even more prepared to meet the changing needs of our community and continue to provide exceptional service,” Aggson said.
Aggson says the fire service has changed significantly over the past three decades, including the types of fires he’s experienced and the technology available to fight them. He recalls in 1990 one of his first times working in another community as part of a mutual aid agreement, the Painted Cave fire in the Santa Barbara area. At 5,000 acres burned, it was considered a significant statewide emergency. Today, the state regularly sees fires of 50,000 acres, with some pushing 1 million.
“With more people, you have greater interaction with the natural environment, or wildland-urban interface area,” Aggson said. “Add a prolonged drought and other effects of climate change, and you get a very different set of challenges as a firefighter today.”
Technology like thermal cameras to help locate victims in smokey environments, automated vehicle locators that identify the closest emergency crew available, and advanced wildfire modeling has helped fire departments keep up with changes to deliver modern fire and rescue services. But Aggson also stresses the importance of the basics, like well-trained and equipped personnel. During his time in SLO, Aggson focused on getting the Fire Department and community even more prepared to meet the new challenges ahead, including:
• Emergency preparedness: The completion of a new emergency operations plan and community wildfire protection plan, plus the city’s first dedicated emergency manager position.
• Open space protection: An expanded open space program with the department’s first off-road fire vehicle and an open space bike program.
• Fire training: Elevated the role of training at all levels of the department, from a new 10-week recruit firefighter academy to a dedicated training captain who ensures firefighters and EMTs are fully prepared for a wide range of demands.
• Expanded rescue capabilities: Grew the city’s technical rescue team, which trains for difficult and highly specialized situations, such as rope rescues, vehicle extractions, responding to structure collapses, confined spaces, and more.
• Crisis support services: A mobile crisis unit pilot program designed to help prevent and reduce chronic homelessness by providing crisis support services to individuals suffering from non-emergency mental health challenges, drug and alcohol addiction, and chronic homelessness.
The role of emergency medical care has also changed during Aggson’s time in the fire service, accounting for a larger percentage of calls and requiring new approaches to staffing and equipment. At the same time, new protocols, medicines, and knowledge have helped improve patient outcomes. Today the city’s fire department has highly trained paramedics and emergency medical technicians who are able to handle a variety of complex medical emergencies before transporting the patient to an emergency room.
“Chief Aggson has been a dedicated leader and has inspired us all to do and be better,” said City Manager Derek Johnson. “I am grateful for the time we worked together and served San Luis Obispo, and I know our community is and will continue to be an even safer place thanks to his contributions.”
The city is currently recruiting for the next fire chief with the goal of hiring someone with plenty of time to ensure a smooth transition. The application filing deadline is on Monday, Aug. 15. For more information about the fire chief position at the city of San Luis Obispo, please visit www.slocity.org/jobs.