Fire Chiefs Tapped For Top California Forestry, Fire Marshal Posts

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named two municipal fire chiefs as state fire marshal and director of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Friday, highlighting the importance of firefighting following Southern California's massive wildfires last fall.

He tapped Dale Geldert to head CDF, bringing the 61-year-old out of retirement. Geldert most recently was fire chief and deputy city manager for the city of Oceanside from 1992 to 2002.

Palo Alto Fire Chief Ruben Grijalva, 49, was named state fire marshal. Grijalva has been chief there since 1994, and previously was the department's assistant fire chief since 1990.

Geldert will have to balance the department's two missions, said Jay Watson, director of the wildland fire program for The Wilderness Society.

``The future of CDF requires recognizing that there's sort of a blending between forest and fire management,'' Watson said. ``So much of California evolved with fire that you can't just approach it with sort of a suppression mode; you've really got to learn to live with it and manage it.''

Geldert was a CDF forest ranger from 1988 to 1991, on the fire side of the department's dual mission. Republican former Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Geldert to the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection in November 1996, where he served until January 1999 as chairman of the California Fire Protection Committee and the Firescope Northern Operations Committee.

Watson worries that Geldert will ``treat CDF as just a giant fire department,'' though Geldert, in a statement, promised to ``manage and protect California's natural resources while ensuring superior fire protection.''

California Forestry Association President Dave Bischel said Geldert ``clearly has the kind of experience and understanding to deal with the most significant issue that our forests face today, which is catastrophic wildfire and developing a strategy to deal with that issue.'' He expects Geldert to be ``an effective and balanced leader for the department.''

CDF fights an average 6,300 wildland fires a year on 31 million acres of nonfederal land, besides regulating nonfederal forests. The Office of the State Fire Marshal is a part of CDF, concentrating on structure fires.

Also Friday, Schwarzenegger appointed Ron Joseph, 56, of Sacramento, director of the Department of General Services, where he has been chief deputy director and interim director since February.

All three are Republicans. The posts require Senate confirmation. Geldert will earn $123,255; Grijalva, $108,753; and Joseph, $123,255.