Opinion: Laguna Beach City Corner

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A Message From The Fire Chief

By Niko King

Thank you to everyone who has welcomed me with open arms to the City of Laguna Beach. I’ve often visited this beautiful town with my family and couldn’t imagine that someday I would have the opportunity to serve the people of this community. I have enjoyed already meeting so many of you during my first month as Fire Chief and look forward to making more introductions as time goes on.

As your new Fire Chief, assessing risk has been my first order of business. Laguna Beach is well known in the fire service as having an incredibly dynamic wildland-urban interface that is formally categorized by the state of California as a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone. I’ve been impressed to learn the City continues to take numerous fire mitigation steps including the implementation of the Wildfire Mitigation and Safety Plan, which includes additional programs, mitigation and preparedness measures, staffing and equipment needed to reduce the current level of high-fire risk and exposure to wildfires in Laguna Beach and action items needed to further protect the City in the event of a wildfire. Even so, the risk created by the natural environment is compounded by certain physical constraints and limitations in the City including limited evacuation routes, overhead utilities, impaired access areas, older buildings and the impact of visitors complicating an evacuation.

In the last few weeks, I have been assessing risk through a three-pronged process that includes community readiness, crew readiness, and equipment status. First, community readiness has impressed me the most, specifically the number of extensive programs in place thanks to the Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Plan as a direct result of a highly ambitious community working with city leadership to make Laguna Beach a safer place to live. From the fuel management programs, which reduce our wildfire risk, to the existing communications systems, the successes are all a direct result of the passion and involvement of the voices that have been heard in our community. Leading the charge in this effort is the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee, and I am very much looking forward to working alongside this group of professionals.

It’s widely known that the Laguna Beach Fire Department is a special group. The culture of professionalism, eagerness for continued learning and training, and depth of technical knowledge amongst the workforce are second to none. During my first month on the job, I’ve verified this every time I step foot inside one of our fire stations. Nearly every senior member of the department has ownership of a program within the department. It translates into a learning environment with crews that are ready to respond and equipment that is well maintained and ready to deploy to provide public service at the highest level.

Moving forward, my immediate goals are to continue the great momentum the department and community have set in place. This is done by further developing my relationships with members of the community as well as those who I’m serving alongside with. We are excited to continue and complete our fuel modification zones and begin the process of conducting a Community Risk Assessment and Standards of Cover Study that will focus on the risks and hazards specific to Laguna Beach and better assess the Fire Department’s capability to respond. Our large historic events, as well as the frequency of everyday emergencies, will be taken into consideration and compared to capabilities such as our dispatch system, fire suppression equipment, response times, and the number of firefighters responding, including how quickly they can arrive on-scene. This will help us to complete a comprehensive assessment of the services provided to the community and identify any areas of improvement to be made.

I’m incredibly honored to have been selected as your 20th Laguna Beach Fire Chief and it is a great privilege to serve you. I look forward to meeting you, building relationships and leading this already incredible organization to serve and protect you.

Niko started as the Laguna Beach Fire Chief in July 2022.

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