When Alhambra's new fire chief, Bill Walker, told his children about his new job, they thought "it was the coolest thing ever." Who wouldn't? He has a slide in his office.
While his new position has its perks, Walker has other reasons for leaving Orange County for Alhambra. He has deep roots in the area — born in San Gabriel in 1967 and graduated from Arcadia High School. He then earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from USC. However, firefighting was always in his thoughts. As a child, he saw firefighters as role models and a bit larger than life, and wanted to be like them. This image never left him and, as a result, he returned to school to attend the Rio Hondo Fire Academy. In 1995, he was hired by the Fountain Valley Fire Department, and became Fire Chief in 2006.
Walker, who was sworn into office on June 13, believes his background lends itself well to his new position in Alhambra. He says his four years as the Fountain Valley fire chief gave him valuable experience which he is ready to apply. Additionally, as Fountain Valley is part of a multi-city fire dispatch system, he is familiar with Alhambra’s participation in the Verdugo Fire Communications Center, which handles calls for 12 geographically proximate cites including Pasadena, San Gabriel and Monterey Park.
Alhambra and Fountain Valley also both have significant minority populations. Fountain Valley has a large and growing Vietnamese community and also a large senior population. Walker said he looks forward to introducing himself to the city’s residents, noting, “Alhambra is a very diverse community and that’s something the city embraces."
On the other hand, Alhambra is more crowded, with nearly double the population of Fountain Valley in a slightly smaller area, but with a similar amount of service calls.
He said his wife Cathy and two children, son Troy, 13, and daughter Avery, 11, are supportive of his new position with Alhambra, even though it means a longer commute from his Orange County home.
That said, he knows the new job will not be easy. The Alhambra Fire Department faces the same challenges that most other agencies confront. Increased budgetary pressures means that the department needs to find a way to do more with less total personnel.
Because it takes a significant amount of time, effort and resources, training is a continuing challenge for the Fire Department. Walker emphasized that firefighters must always be ready for “low frequency, high risk events”, such as the recent discover of several hand grenades. “Getting our people to be prepared to safely and competently deal with anything that comes their way is a great challenge,” Walker said.
The Fire Department must also effectively evaluate and utilize technology. For instance, medical aid calls had been documented with paper and pencil, but the Department is changing over to electronic patient care records.
Although he has only been here for a short time, Walker has found Fire Department personnel to be experienced, capable and wanting to work with him. He feels very positive about what he sees and is learning a great deal as he acclimates to his new position: “It’s a great department with 105 years of history, so it’s certainly my pleasure to have an opportunity to do that.”