Retiring Encinitas fire chief known for being a team player

Retiring Encinitas fire chief known for being a team player

23 February 2006

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ENCINITAS – Fire Chief Donald Heiser, an expert in fighting wildfires, is retiring after 36 years.

He will leave his $142,272 position on July 1 and deal with another kind of fire – in the kitchen. The chief, 53, is a certified chef and will devote part of his retirement to his catering business and to teachingcooking.

“He is a good chief,” Deputy Mayor James Bond said. “He is extremely focused on fire prevention and fire control, particularly in preventing wild fires.”

“He is a real team player,” Bond said. “We helped others in fighting forest fires across the country and sent troops to Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina. He sent people down to Mexico when they had a fire, and we had no agreement with Mexico. It was just the right thing to do.”

Heiser had been a chief for only four years when the Harmony Grove firestorm of 1996 raged all the way to Carlsbad and took four days to extinguish.

It destroyed 122 homes in Carlsbad, Encinitas, San Marcos and unincorporated areas of the county and burned more than 8,600 acres. The damage was extensive enough for then-Gov. Pete Wilson to declare a state of emergency.

At the time, Hesier was part of a joint command consisting of representatives from the state Department of Forestry and the Carlsbad, San Marcos and Elfin Forest fire departments that fought the fire.

Heiser’s other career highlights include the modernization of the fire department, the development of a master plan for the department and the use of regional video conferences to teach firefighting.

An Encinitas resident, he began his career as a volunteer firefighter at the Alpine Fire Protection District in 1970 and worked for the state Department of Forestry before returning to Alpine.

In 1986, he came to Encinitas as a battalion chief and, in 1992, was promoted to fire chief.

Besides perfecting his culinary skills, he will continue to teach wildfire fighting for the California Fire Chiefs Association, a professional organization that offers courses to fire departments across the state.

As a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, he also will be visiting South Africa in November to teach firefighting techniques. 


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