County hires new fire chief

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Whether tackling responsibilities for Thursday's Chatsworth brush fire, keeping tabs on breaking news or boosting fire safety awareness, Los Angeles County Assistant Fire Chief Bill Niccum's duties never end.

The 37-year county fire veteran took over as Division III's assistant fire chief two weeks ago, replacing Chief John Gee, said the department's spokeswoman, Stephanie English.

Niccum's schedule has been nonstop since he took over the position, which oversees emergency operations for the county's northern cities, including La Cañada Flintridge, Santa Clarita and Chatsworth, and unincorporated communities such as La Crescenta.

With the high threat of fire this season, Niccum said one of his major goals as the new chief will be educating residents on the "Ready, Set, Go" wildfire action plan. The plan, created in June 2009, aims to help hillside residents properly safeguard their homes from wildfires.

About 38,000 residents who live along urban wildland have been mailed fliers about the plan, he said.

In that plan, hillside residents received tips on landscaping their homes and mandatory brush clearance guidelines.

Los Angeles County Fire's brush-clearance rules require residents, depending on their location, to remove vegetation 30 feet to 200 feet from their homes, while the U.S. Forest Service calls for only 30 feet, Niccum said.

Fire officials, he said, have been working with the U.S. Forest Service to adopt a more conservative brush-clearance plan.

"We will get more information out as those changes develop," Niccum said.

While public awareness has been focused on this summer's fire danger, he said the winter months will also bring challenges, including the threat of mudslides.

In preparation for the winter, Niccum said he will continue to expand existing safety measures.

"Hopefully, we will enhance the education to the community and increase their understanding of why it's necessary to evacuate, what our parameters are and what their responsibility is," he said.

Along with educating residents on creating a defensible space around their homes, he said he wants to ensure firefighter safety is maintained, service delivery continues to improve and public safety education thrives.

"My goal is to be an active participant in the modernization of a traditional organization that reaches out to technology, management styles and modern leadership models," Niccum said.

Before taking over as chief, Niccum served as director of the department's Emergency Medical Services Bureau.

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