Bill McQuaid takes next step in ‘dream career,’ takes over as Fountain Valley fire chief
Nearly three decades ago, Bill McQuaid made a promise that he has kept to this day.
Having grown up in Fountain Valley with a dream to join the fire service, McQuaid was ready to make a commitment to then Fire Chief Bernard Heimos if he hired him — he would stay at the same place his entire career.
“If somebody was going to give me that opportunity to get into it, then I was going to give them my all,” McQuaid said of the promise he made that day. “Second, Fountain Valley is my home, so having the opportunity to serve in my dream career in my own hometown, in my own backyard, was an opportunity that I was willing to commit to for the entirety of my career.”
McQuaid, who was brought on board as a full-time firefighter-paramedic in 1996, has been named the new fire chief of Fountain Valley. He was introduced to the community in his new role at the City Council meeting Tuesday night.
“That really touches me here, and we really appreciate your commitment to the city and this community,” Councilman Patrick Harper said upon hearing McQuaid’s story at the meeting. “What a great promise to have like that on board.”
After joining the Fountain Valley Fire Department as a reserve, McQuaid also held the roles of fire engineer, fire captain, battalion chief and division chief of operations. He now succeeds Ron Cookston, another homegrown product, as fire chief.
With its blend of blue- and white-collar work, the fire service appealed to McQuaid for its various challenges.
“Over the last five to seven years, I’ve traveled up and down the state of California as a strike team leader, responding to multiple of the largest fires in California history,” McQuaid said. “[It involved] leading teams of firefighters fighting these fires in extreme, adverse conditions 24 hours a day on the front lines of the fire, just putting in that hard work to make a difference to save homes and communities.”
Those efforts included fighting the Thomas fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, which ignited in late December 2017 and was deemed contained the following January, as well as the Dixie fire that raged in Northern California from July to October 2021.
On the administrative side, McQuaid found himself involved with setting up vaccination centers during the coronavirus pandemic.
McQuaid, 54, lives with his family in Huntington Beach. He graduated from Fountain Valley High in 1986.
City Manager Maggie Le said McQuaid will earn a base salary of $241,308.
As fire chief, McQuaid said he wants to prioritize support for first responders by giving them the tools to do their work and provide “concierge level” service to the community.
“Right now, we’re partnering with our local high schools here in the city,” McQuaid said. “With the large-scale opioid and fentanyl usage that’s going on and the adverse results that are coming out of that, we’ve partnered with our high schools to train the teachers and train the high school staff how to respond to those emergencies.
“We’re providing them with the Narcan, which is the medication that we provide to help offset the effects of opioids, to the high schools so that they can get rapid response, even before we can get there to help us in the process of saving lives.”
Bettering himself through education was important to McQuaid. He earned his master’s degree in public safety leadership and executive management from Arizona State University last year. McQuaid hopes he has set an example for others in his department to continue their pursuit of higher education.
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