It has been a week of change for the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept., with three employees stepping into positions of greater responsibility and five new faces making their debut.
At a ceremony held Monday at County Fire Headquarters, County Fire Chief John Scherrei presented new badges to 16-year department veteran Eli Iskow, who was promoted to captain, and 11-year veteran Jason Eitreim, who was promoted to engineer/inspector. Scherrei also welcomed Ingrid Cruz, Jay McAmis, Jason Geneau, Eric Eacker, and Mike Hayes into their new positions with the Fire Dept. and Office of Emergency Services.
Monday was also Capt. Diondray Wiley’s first day as the Fire Dept.’s new public information officer (PIO), taking over for long-time spokesman Capt. Charlie Johnson.
Johnson, who served as the Fire Dept. PIO for the past 20 years, announced his retirement last Friday in a press release on the Fire Dept. newsline. In the press release, Johnson thanked the members of the local media for their support during his nearly two-decade-long stint as PIO.
“I have three families,” Johnson said. “My family at home with my wife and children, my fire family, and my media family.”
Wiley, who served as the master of ceremonies for the promotion ceremony Monday, said he is looking forward to the job, even with the number of responsibilities it requires.
“I know it’s going to be a little overwhelming at first,” Wiley said. “Even though the workload is tremendous, I have a lot of support here at the department.”
Wiley said Johnson had been training him for the past two weeks in preparation for the changeover.
“He’s a really good mentor,” Wiley said. “Charlie set the standard – he built this program from the ground up. I hope I can meet that standard.”
In addition to following the precedent set by Johnson, Wiley said he hopes to use his own personal strengths to do the job as best he can.
“I’m really excited about it,” Wiley said. “I want to try to put my own personality into the job.”
Wiley previously worked as the captain of Station 17 at UCSB, which he began last January. He said he enjoyed working on campus, and he said the challenges it presented are much different than those he will face as a PIO.
“It was exciting because there was always something going on,” Wiley said. “It was very enjoyable. I’ll probably make it back there at some point later in my career.”
Scherrei said he thinks Wiley will be fully capable of handling the job on his own once he gains a bit more experience, but he said that until then, the department will be there to help out the new PIO if he needs it.
“He’s going to need a little help, but we’re all there beside him,” Scherrei said. “He’ll be a good PIO. We’re in good hands.”
Iskow, who received the Medal of Valor for a March 1992 rescue, said he is extremely pleased to assume his role as a captain.
“It feels awesome,” Iskow said. “We have the some of the best jobs on the planet, and it’s an honor and a privilege to do any of them.”
Along with the new position comes some anxiety about the duty of having to lead so many people, Iskow said.
“Sure, I’m a little nervous about it,” Iskow said. “If you aren’t nervous, then you don’t appreciate the responsibility.”
Iskow said the training that brought him to this point essentially began 29 years ago when he decided to pursue a career in the fire service.
“I’ve held a lot of different jobs in this department, and I’ve loved every one,” Iskow said. “Every step along the way has been a little better than the one before.”
Eitreim, who has been with the Fire Dept. since Oct. 1993, said the promotion to engineer/inspector is a big step in his career as a firefighter.
“It’s wonderful,” Eitreim said. “It’s an honor to be recognized in front of your peers.”
Eitrem said the promotion is somewhat bittersweet, as he will be leaving the fire crew he has worked with since Aug. 1998. He said he credits much of his success to the help provided by those co-workers.
“They were instrumental in their encouragement and support,” Scherrei said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Due to the amount of time and effort required of those who apply for the higher positions, Scherrei said applicants must be extremely dedicated to pursue the necessary training.
“I’m very grateful that they had the courage to take the exam,” Scherrei said. “It requires about a year of intense study, and it’s very competitive. There’s a lot at stake.”
Scherrei said the promotions are crucial in keeping fire response in the county at top form, and he said both the Fire Dept. and the community benefits.
“I see it as the lifeblood of this department,” Scherrei said. “This is what keeps us going.”