When Joel Aranaz moves to the Central Coast in January, he’ll leave his current post as chief of a nearly 360-person fire department in Fresno to lead the Five Cities Fire Authority, a department about 1/25th that size that serves Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Oceano.
Aranaz, who has been chief of the Fresno Fire Department since October 2010, was recently selected by the Fire Authority board to succeed current Chief Mike Hubert.
Hubert is leaving after five years as chief, first as head of the Arroyo Grande/Grover Beach Fire Department. He then continued to lead the Fire Authority after the fire services of those two cities and Oceano were merged in 2010.
The Five Cities Fire Authority is the second-largest municipal fire department in the county, after the San Luis Obispo Fire Department.
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The South County department has 17 full-time fire engineers and captains, about 25 reserve firefighters and three stations providing protection to more than 37,000 residents.
Last year, the agency responded to about 4,000 calls for service.
By comparison, the Fresno department responded to 32,860 emergencies in 2010. According to its website, the department decreased in size this fiscal year by about 17 positions to have a total of about 357 sworn and civilian positions.
The Fresno department’s budget has dropped as well, from $54 million in 2008 to $43 million currently, Aranaz said. That is still almost twelve times the current fiscal year budget for its Five Cities counterpart.
Aranaz started in 1977 with the Fresno Fire Department as a paramedic and over the years held various positions, including fire captain, battalion chief, bureau chief and deputy chief of operations.
In a phone interview, Aranaz, 60, said he had to retire because he’d reached the time limit he could participate in Fresno’s public-safety pension system’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP.
The program enables employees to deposit what would be their pension payments into an investment account while continuing to work and collect paychecks, according to the Fresno Bee.
According to the paper, Aranaz retired in June as the city’s fire chief but continued to work, earning an hourly wage, but no benefits.
“I wasn’t ready to stop working,” Aranaz said Wednesday. “When the Five Cities Fire opportunity came, I looked into it and liked what I saw.” He and his wife had hoped to retire in the area, he said.
Aranaz does not have an exact start date yet, though it will likely be sometime in January. His salary is still under negotiation.