Serving the community since 1970

Kern fire chief's 26 years of safety service

Joe Appleton has 26 years of experience with the Kern County Fire Department, having been promoted through the ranks from firefighter to engineer to captain to battalion chief and finally as fire division chief, where he has served for 2 1/2 years. He enjoys being in the community, helping people and loving the challenge of emergency services.

"As fire division chief, I oversee operations for C shift for the entire Kern County Fire Department, including responding to incidents, fires and rescues, attending training and management of staffing and personnel. I handle many of the daily issues that come up in the department operations. Every day is different."

He is also the liaison to the City of Wasco for the fire service provided by the Kern County Fire Department.

Appleton has lived in Bakersfield all his life. His office is also in Bakersfield. He comes to Wasco for large incidents and oversees the battalion there. He also enjoys attending various community functions in Wasco, such as the Christmas parade, Trunk-or-Treat and other activities.

He said what he most likes about his role is being able to take care of his employees, "who are the ones out there providing the service directly. I supervise eight battalion chiefs and one safety officer and am responsible for 165 people daily on my shift."

He faces challenges in ensuring the safety of his team. "From the perspective of the firefighter, fires progress more rapidly than they did 30 or 40 years ago. Now, there are more synthetic materials that burn faster than they did years ago, when most of the materials in homes were natural materials such as cotton, wood, etc., and took longer to burn."

"What that means for us is that people have less time to get out of their home if it catches on fire. We want people to have a working smoke detector so they can have as much notice to get their family and safely get out of a building that is on fire."

Therefore, educating the public about fire safety is paramount for him. "Calling 911 as soon as possible will help us get there as soon as possible to ensure there are no people in the burning building and put the fire out."

He said that in a small community like Wasco, sometimes people call the fire station directly in an emergency, and he wants them to call 911 instead. "I want to convey to the residents that when you have an emergency, call 911."

Appleton hopes educating the community will help relieve some of the pressure his firefighters face. He also believes it's essential to keep his team prepared to ensure they are fully equipped to meet any challenge that may come their way.

"We participate in daily training throughout our entire department. As firefighters, we practice the basics of our job and are always on the lookout for ways to improve the safety and tactics of our firefighting."

He said firefighting can be physically and emotionally demanding. "We balance mental health by making sure we exercise, eat well and are rested."

"We have a critical incident stress management program that can help our personnel work through the aftermath of a stressful situation."

As a division chief, he is proud of the programs he has collaborated on to impact the department positively.

"The biggest contribution to the department is training and finding the best ways to prepare our personnel for the next emergency. Our preparation helps us to provide efficient and effective service to the communities we serve."

His biggest message to the community? "Have a working smoke detector for your safety and the safety of your family."


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