Paso Robles down two fire chiefs, as one retires and the other moves to SLO

Retiring Paso Robles Fire Chief Ken Johnson with firefighters.
Retiring Paso Robles Fire Chief Ken Johnson with firefighters.

Paso Robles is down two fire chiefs, while San Luis Obispo is getting a new one.

Chief Ken Johnson of the Paso Robles Department of Emergency Services recently announced his retirement after 15 years in the city. Around the same time, the San Luis Obispo City Fire Department hired Paso Robles Battalion Fire Chief Keith Aggson as deputy fire chief to succeed Jeff Gater, who retired in December.

Johnson, whose last day is March 3, said his retirement has been in the works, but Aggson’s nearly simultaneous departure will give the department a chance to bring in some fresh faces. He said instead of hiring a replacement for Aggson, it will be best for his successor to select a new deputy.

“The department was ready for a change,” Johnson said.

Johnson led Emergency Services through the tough economic years following the recession of the late 2000s. He said the department is in the midst of working with the City Council to get additional resources and increase staffing.

“There’s a fair amount of work to do and not a lot of people left to do it,” he said.

Even so, Johnson said he’s comfortable leaving the department in its present shape, which has improved as the economy has recovered: “As we emerge through the other end, we’re in great shape.”

Aggson joined Paso Robles in May 2015, after serving in Atascadero as a fire captain paramedic and in Templeton as an interim fire chief. His first day on the job in San Luis Obispo was Jan. 12.

“It is a great honor and privilege to be chosen as part of the leadership team for the San Luis Obispo Fire Department,” Aggson said in a statement. “We have several great opportunities ahead of us to further improve services.”

Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin acknowledged that losing both Johnson and Aggson will be a challenge: “It’s going to make things more difficult in the near future.”

Interim replacements have not yet been selected, although the city manager’s office is conducting a search and will likely have an update at the next City Council meeting on Tuesday, Martin said.

The city had been preparing for a workshop to discuss how to best manage fire services moving forward, especially as Paso Robles’ population continues to grow, he said. Now, that discussion will have to wait.

Even so, Martin said he was pleased with both employees’ service and the direction the department has taken over the past decade and a half.

“I think they’ve both performed well,” he said.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27