Rocklin's interim chief fired up

Rocklin fire veteran James Summers gets nod from outgoing Fire Chief Bill Mikesell
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Rocklin Fire Chief Bill Mikesell doesn?t officially retire until July 13, but he?s doing everything he can to make the leadership transition as painless as possible not only for the public safety of Rocklin citizens, but also to alleviate the stress on the 40 Rocklin Fire personnel. ?When I first came here I saw there was a fear of change,? Mikesell said. ?There will be some of that apprehension and fear now, but it is only natural.? Last week City Manager Rick Horst announced 29-year veteran and Rocklin Battalion Chief James Summers would become the interim chief until the position can be filled permanently. Summers, a native of Lake Tahoe, started at Citrus Heights Fire District (now Sac Metro Fire) in 1983. He?s spent the last 26 years with Rocklin and was named battalion chief by Mikesell in 2001. ?This community has been a safe community and (Chief Summers) will do everything he can to keep it that way,? Mikesell said. Mikesell is proud of Summers, pointing out the battalion chief has an excellent work ethic. ?He was rewarded for his hard work,? Mikesell said. ?I have confidence in Jim?s abilities to not only do the interim chief job, but also to do the fire chief?s job.? Whether Summers will be given the title permanently is up to Horst, who set a precedent last year when he permanently promoted Rocklin Police Captain Ron Lawrence to replace former Chief Mark Siemens. Summers said he?s focusing on stabilizing the transition for the good of the order. ?Chief Mikesell has done a really good job at taking this department to the next level. It runs pretty smooth,? Summers said. ?I don?t think there is going to be a lot of changes that have to be made.? Mikesell admits the down economy is the biggest challenge for the department. The city has cut the Rocklin Fire Department budget by 25 percent since 2006 even as the need for fire service has grown with the population. ?No chief since the 1950s has been though what this chief has been through - lack of hiring, layoffs and cutting of budgets,? Mikesell said. ?We?re scrambling internally. We?ve been so creative and I?ve been so proud of my staff.? Both chiefs agree that even as the fire truck replacement fund has been suspended, plans for a fourth fire station shelved and negotiations for a new fire union labor contract in full swing the department is in good shape. ?We?ve had all these priorities for years,? Mikesell said. Summers, known for his reserved, no-nonsense approach, has achieved success within the department by working hard. He was the incident commander on the 2002 wildfire that burned from Interstate 80 and Sierra College Boulevard to Granite Bay destroying 19 structures and hundreds of acres, but no lives. ?I?m the behind-the-scenes guy. I do my job. I work hard and I enjoy what I do,? Summers said. While Rocklin?s biggest fire risks include wildfires, incidents on the freeways and possible railway crashes as well as protecting the gas tank farm south of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Street, Summers is focusing on something everyone takes for granted, he said. ?There are case studies where incidents happen at normal residential structure fires where people get killed,? Summers said. Summers wants to focus on training to ensure his firefighters will always go home to their families. Summers? long-term priorities include improving response times for outlying areas, the development of a fire station and regional training facility at Sierra College and adding paramedics/firefighters to each fire engine team. ?Just keep things going and improve the little things you can and then we?ll see what happens,? Summers said.