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    Default Woodland Hills gets new Fire Chief

    Woodland Hills chooses new fire chief
    Matt Reichman


    Fire Chief Val Wilding (cq) (left) of the Woodland Hills Fire Station helps volunteers get acquainted with their radios during a mock training where scenarios are created and performance is evaluated at Woodland Hills, Thursday. July 15, 2010 KRISTIN HEINICHEN/Daily Herald .
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    ..WOODLAND HILLS -- The city of Woodland Hills has chosen out of its ranks a volunteer fireman of 15 years to take command as its new fire chief.

    Val Wilding will head up the 20 or so volunteer residents who protect the city, which has a population of just a few thousand, but enough flammable forest real estate to keep busy.

    Newly appointed by Mayor Steve Lauritzen, Wilding takes over for Dorel Kynaston, the previous chief of five years. He hails from Idaho's Snake River Valley, but fell in love with Woodland Hills's namesake topography when he moved there.

    "I knew we had a bit higher risk in that area because of the trees and foliage, so I thought I should get involved in the fire department," said Wilding, who most recently served as the fire department's training officer for several years.

    Wilding and his wife, Beth, have seven children, most still at home, but they somehow found the time to help -- including Beth, who helped form the city's First Responders unit 10 years ago. All fire and medical volunteers stay on call, 24 hours/day, so the Wildings have tag-teamed at emergency calls plenty in the past decade.

    "It's sometimes our date night," said Wilding, who also works full-time as a tech support manager for Symantec.

    Beth said her husband's contagious passion will be his most valuable asset as a leader in the community. He cares about his neighbors, and he puts up with long, sometimes thankless hours, because of it.

    "That's what keeps us going," she said.

    It's also what stuck out to Lauritzen as he interviewed candidates for the position. Semimonthly trainings aren't exactly exciting to attend, especially without getting paid for it, he said, but somehow Wilding got people to show up and enjoy them. (Sometimes the Wildings recruited their kids to play accident victims.)

    "He's positive and uplifts the group," he said. "In a volunteer organization, it's important to have a leader who's a good team builder."

    Wilding has always been a big believer in proper training, and he doesn't expect to tone it down as he passes that role on to someone else. He and Lauritzen have also talked at length about focusing on fire prevention in the community. This includes eduction about flammable materials, such as old woodpiles, as well as enforcement on reckless fire hazards around town.

    "One of my worst nightmares is to stand and watch an event unfold and not have skills or the ability to do something," Wilding said, noting that his personnel has only a few minutes to make a difference. "Other cities get called out a lot, and they get experience because they're taking care of incidents. We have to get our experience and be ready through our training."

    Good training and fire prevention wouldn't be a bad legacy to leave behind, Wilding said. The department continues to grow -- it just invested in a four-wheel drive pumper engine -- and that can be chalked up to willing neighbors and a cooperative City Council, he said.

    "He helps me sleep a little better at night," Lauritzen said.
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