Palo Alto, California Fire Chief Tapped For State Position

Palo Alto fire chief Ruben Grijalva got the job he's been angling for: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him state fire marshal on Friday.

No firm date has been set for when Grijalva, 49, must start reporting to Sacramento, but it will be sometime this summer, said Rob McAndrews with the governor's press office.

Palo Alto will appoint one of its three deputy chiefs as interim chief until a permanent replacement is tapped, and Grijalva will probably help with the transition, said Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison. The city manager ultimately will hire the replacement, but it hasn't been decided how the hunt for a new chief will be conducted, she said.

Grijalva was flying back from Oaxaca, Mexico on Friday and was unavailable for comment. In a statement released by the governor's office, Grijalva said: ``It's been my life's work to protect life and property through fire prevention and education, and I am excited to have the opportunity to serve the people of California in this capacity.''

Grijalva's imminent departure is hardly a surprise. He had posted his qualifications, positions and endorsements on a Web site -- which has since been taken down -- and Harrison herself was called on a reference check.

Someone asked her if she thought Grijalva was committed to the environmental movement and she responded, ``I absolutely think so.'' When Harrison had to organize the city's environmental sustainability plan, Grijalva lent her one of his senior managers for a year to help with the project, she said.

Schwarzenegger simultaneously announced Grijalva's appointment and that of Dale Geldert as Department of Forestry and Fire Protection director. Both positions require Senate confirmation.

``It's a privilege to appoint Dale and Ruben to these important positions,'' Schwarzenegger said in a statement. ``Their diverse experience and passion for service gives me the confidence that California's wild lands and fire protection needs are in able hands.''

As fire marshal, Grijalva will oversee wildfire fighting, offer training and education, and influence building and hazardous materials codes. The department has 82 positions and a $12 million budget.

That's smaller than the Palo Alto fire department, where the Republican has been chief since 1994. Palo Alto's fire department has about 130 employees and a $19 million budget. The Palo Alto job also pays better: He's earning $160,000 now and will earn $108,753 as fire marshal.

It's unclear how the move will effect his pension. If Grijalva had retired from Palo Alto at age 50 he would be eligible to receive 90 percent of his salary. He's leaving nearly a year earlier, but it's possible that through vacation and sick time accruals, he could still be eligible for the high rate, said P.A. Moore, Palo Alto's deputy communications manager