Deputy Chief Fred Seguin has a nickname at the Costa Mesa Fire Department. Some firefighters call him “the pope.”
The title doesn’t come from any especially pious disposition. It’s based on the size of his hat.
Seguin has a white helmet in his office that he has worn only on a few emergency calls. Typically, the front of the helmet has a leather patch that displays a firefighter’s title.
Seguin’s has five patches: acting chief, deputy chief, battalion chief, fire marshal and EMS coordinator. They’re piled on top of one another, creating an oversize facade that extends from the helmet’s dome.
A group of firefighters gave Seguin the headgear when he was promoted to deputy chief in 2012.
He is the Fire Department’s longest-standing employee. But after 30 years with the city, “the pope” is retiring.
Seguin, 55, said no personal milestone or professional accomplishment prompted him to set Oct. 14 as his retirement day. It’s simply time to make room for someone else, he said.
“I just wanted to go to work every day and do the best that I could,” he said.
“He’s going to be a tremendous loss for our department,” said Battalion Chief Bill Kershaw.
Seguin has an unusual ability to bounce seamlessly among projects, Kershaw said.
Even during his last month on the job, Seguin monitors radio traffic from his office in City Hall, where he’ll pause administrative work and respond to an emergency when another manager isn’t available.
“The guy probably gets three or four hours of sleep a night, and he’s able to function like that,” Kershaw said. “He’s just amazing.”
Seguin started at the department as a 25-year-old firefighter in 1985.
He quickly got a reputation. Almost as soon as he started his first shift, his unit was called to a report of a fallen motorcyclist at Bear Street and Sunflower Avenue.
Over the next 24 hours, Seguin’s station fielded 14 calls — about a half-dozen more than a typical shift — and busy days seemed to follow whenever he clocked in.
“By the time I finished my first three shifts, they kind of figured I was the black cloud,” Seguin said.
Though he had completed the fire academy and fire science classes at Santa Ana College, he had held only one other job after high school, working full time at Albertsons. Now he was waking up to an alarm bell to field an emergency in the middle of the night. But something about it fit.
“It was an eye-opener,” he said. “And by the end of the three shifts, I was very happy … with my choice of occupation at that time.”
Within five years, Seguin was promoted to engineer, and in 1997 he was chosen to be a fire captain.
He rose to battalion chief in 2011 and deputy chief in 2012. During that time, he also handled fire marshal duties and headed the city’s emergency medical services program, adding to the stack of titles on his hat.
Seguin said he never considered leaving Costa Mesa for another fire job. “I had no desire to go anywhere else,” he said. “I had no reason to.”
Seguin’s tenure in upper management came at a tumultuous time for the department.
In 2011, the City Council considered eliminating the Fire Department and outsourcing the service to the Orange County Fire Authority.
Instead, in 2012, the council appointed interim Fire Chief Tom Arnold to lead a restructuring plan that would cut costs by closing a fire station and reducing staffing.
After Arnold left in June 2013, Seguin led the department for a few months.
Current Chief Dan Stefano, who stepped into the top job in December 2013, said he was “incredibly fortunate” to have Seguin stay on as his deputy chief. He compared Seguin to a utility baseball player who is able to take over any position as needed.
“There’s no question he’s been a stabilizing force in everything that’s taken place,” Stefano said.
For the record: The original version of this story reported incorrectly that Dan Stefano became fire chief in October 2013.