New fire chief looks forward
BARSTOW • A maintenance job at Daggett Airstrip fortuitously led to a full-time position with the Barstow Fire Department for then paid-call firefighter Rich Ross. Now, 24 years later, Ross has been named the Barstow fire chief after the City Council unanimously approved the recommendation Monday.
Ross said he caught the bug to join the department after participating with the airport’s fire brigade while still in high school and after a few friendly run-ins there with the chief at the time, Dale Milligan, whom Ross had raced BMX with as kids. At 18, Ross put himself through the academy and, just one year later, was hired on full-time when a few slots opened up.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Ross said. “I look forward to doing it. I’ve been with the department over half of my life.”
He sees having being born and raised in Barstow as a positive thing.
“I think the best thing about it is it’s a great motivator. The explorers are able to see the career path that’s available to them if they choose to do it,” he said. “Within the ranks as well, guys know there is a future here if they prepare themselves. You understand the community. You understand their needs. I think it’ll help us transition a lot quicker.”
While serving as interim fire chief in place of Darrell Jauss, who retired in April, Ross said his goals for the department extended six months. Now, he noted, he can think ahead to the next three to five years.
Ross wants to move the fire department toward a value-based system, where, traditionally, it had been role-governed. Instead of worrying about roles, he wants to focus on “doing the right thing.” To do that, he said people in the department need to be empowered to make good decisions.
He also wants to put plans in place to accommodate a situation where the city might grow. Right now, the department is limited on staffing. There are currently six firefighters on duty at any given time to protect the entire community.
Because of this, he called cross-training extremely important.
“We have to assume we’re isolated in any type of major emergency,” he said.
In other departments, each firefighter has a specialty in one particular area, where as cross-training emphasizing training everyone in every type of skill.
Finally, Ross is committed to developing those under his command to be ready to promote so when opportunities arise, they are ready to excel right off the bat.
“We want to create a career track so the guys that are already there will know they have a future if they do certain things,” he said, “and make sure they know going in what those requirements are and what we expect of them.”