SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Keith Aggson announced his plans to retire from the department in November following a 34-year career in fire services.
"When I arrived here, SLO had a great Fire Department," Aggson said.
"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 has worked in various communities across California's Central Coast, including Atascadero, Templeton, and Paso Robles. He began leading the San Luis Obispo Fire Department as chief in 2017.
The fire service has changed significantly over the past three decades, including the types of fires that break out and the technology used to fight them, Aggson said.
He remembered one of his first times working in another community as part of a mutual aid agreement was the Painted Cave fire in the Santa Barbara area in 1990. The fire burned 5,000 acres and was considered a significant statewide emergency, but today, California regularly sees fires of 50,000 acres, some even push one 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.”
Aggson acknowledged the importance of technology like thermal cameras to help locate victims in smokey environments, automated vehicle locators that identify the closest emergency crews, and advanced wildfire modeling but also stressed the importance of the basics – well-trained and equipped personnel.
In his tenure as chief, Aggson heavily focused on getting the fire department and community more prepared to meet new challenges that lie ahead.
He completed a new Emergency Operations Plan and Community Wildfire Protection Plan, expanded an open space program with the department's first off-road fire vehicle and an open space bike program, elevated the role of training at all levels of the department, and expanded crisis support services by implementing a Mobile Crisis Unit pilot program designed to help prevent and reduce chronic homelessness by providing crisis services to homeless individuals, among other things.
“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.”