SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Santa Maria's fire chief is getting ready to retire.
Santa Maria city manager Jason Stilwell announced Tuesday night that Chief Leonard Champion would be leaving his post in just a few weeks.
Champion says he is very excited to start the next chapter in his life, but his coworkers say this is going to be a major loss for the department.
"It’s amazing how time flies. I’ve invested so much of my life into this community and its department," Champion said. "A little bit bitter-sweet to actually be walking away at this point."
He’s considered true to his name: a Champion of sorts at the department.
"He just has a really calm demeanor and it just doesn’t seem like things faze him and he’s a 'think before you speak' kind of leader," said firefighter Seth Wells.
Champion has been working with the Santa Maria Fire Department for 30 years. His started as a reserve firefighter in 1990 and served as fire chief for the last four years.
“The fire service is our second family," Champion said. "You’re a tight knit group and it’s also difficult because I was born and raised here and my entire career was with this department, so I have a lot of relationships and I have those to lean on and those to remember after I retire."
Champion is known for his work in the delivery of emergency medical services and is a member of the Santa Barbara County EMS Advisory Committee.
“Our community was very fortunate to have Leonard Champion serve his entire 27-year career with the Santa Maria Fire Department, starting in 1993 as Reserve Firefighter and then promoting through the ranks. He attended local schools and is an active and personable member of the community. He is highly respected among his peers, is known for his ability to build relationships with other agencies including emergency medical services, and helped to shape and grow the department. He will be solemnly missed,” said City Manager Jason Stilwell.
He says one of the aspects of his job that he cherishes most is the people he met along the way.
“We have some amazing people that live here and to give back and invest into Santa Maria... I’m just privileged to know them and to have worked alongside of them“
Champion says his last day in the department will be Dec. 17.
This isn't the only retirement recently announced in the city of Santa Maria.
Police chief Phil Hansen announced last week that he plans to retire before the end of the year as well.