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Running for retirement

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Michael Freeman set to retire after 21 years of service

Posted: November 26, 2009 8:01 p.m.
Updated: November 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.

On most nights when Michael Freeman arrived home, his wife was already sleeping and dinner was waiting in the refrigerator.

“The thing that has been tough about the fire service, has been the late nights,” said Freeman, Los Angeles County Fire Chief. “It’s going to be nice to be getting home in time for dinner and not worrying about what direction the wind is blowing on your day off or whether its raining.”

Freeman is set to retire in March, 2010 after 21 years with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The chief, who ran a fire department with some of the most advanced tactics for firefighting in the country, will split time between doting over a new granddaughter, spending time with his wife and volunteering at church. He might also work his way back into competitive running shape.

Freeman a California native, spent the bulk of his childhood in Texas, where he fell in love with firefighting.

“I used to watch a show called Rescue 8 and that’s when I became interested in becoming a fireman,” he said.

His firefighting career began in Dallas in 1964. Freeman’s homecoming of sorts was in 1989 when he moved back to California and joined L.A. County Fire.

“It was like coming home, but not. So much had changed in Los Angeles since I left,” he said.

And Freeman was set to change County Fire.

“If there is one thing I think every firefighter will say about our organization, it is that we are a caring organization,” Freeman said.

He instituted a culture of caring where firefighters are constantly told to always remember they serve the victims of tragedies.

“I think no matter what the emergency is, I tell them to identify with the victims of that emergency,” Freeman said. “It’s treating everyone as if they are a member of your family.”

Freeman also improved the tactics his department uses to fight the wildland blazes that plague the Southland. He expanded the size of the air fleet, adding not just more helicopters, but adding aircraft capable of snuffing out wildfires with air strikes.

With retirement pending, Freeman isn’t done changing County Fire. His newest project involves modifying the worker’s compensation rules governing the department. Freeman wants to allow firefighters quicker access to medical care. In turn, he hopes firefighters will get back in the field protecting life and property sooner.

“We are working on a way to expedite the treatment for firefighters not just for the humanitarian reason, but to save this county money.”

County fire must pay overtime to fill the void left by an injured firefighter.  

Freeman looks forward to retirement, which will mean more time with his family and a chasing around his new granddaughter, who is expected to arrive shortly after the holidays.

“That’s a first for us, so it’s exciting,” he said about becoming a grandfather.

In preparation for keeping up with his new granddaughter, Freeman will pour much of his energy into one of his other passions — running. Freeman has run full marathons across the country and competed in a half marathon in Santa Clarita several years ago.

He loves to run, but doesn’t necessarily love the times he records.

“I can’t remember the time, but it was slow.”


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