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New Fire Chief Enjoys Life in Oxnard

By Tim Pompey

James Williams has been on the job for two months and so far he’s enjoying himself. Friendly city, good weather, and a great opportunity to manage the Oxnard Fire Department.

One of 37 individuals who applied for the job, Williams previously spent 25 years with the Oakland Fire Department where he rose to the rank of deputy chief. This is his first job as a city fire chief.
Even though he’s only been in Oxnard for a few weeks, Williams is impressed with a fire department that has a stellar reputation and a high CPR save rate. “So far,” he said, “I have seen nothing but positive from a public safety viewpoint.”

Williams has a varied background in business and public safety. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is certified as a hazardous materials specialist. In Oakland, he supervised a department with more than 500 employees and oversaw the construction of the city’s first LEED-certified fire station.

Despite all the professional opportunities he benefitted from in Oakland, Williams spoke about why he chose to take a position in a smaller city like Oxnard. Simply put, he believes that the position would give him a chance to work in a place where he could make a difference. “I felt that I would be working with a great group of men and women and that I could add value to the department,” he explained. “When I considered what it would be like to work here, I concluded that Oxnard would just be a gem of a professional opportunity.”

Williams shared what he’s initially observed about the department’s most pressing needs. The first is staffing, which he noted, for a rapidly growing city like Oxnard, is undersized. “I believe that we are spending the dollars that the city can afford,” he said, “but it is my hope that as economic opportunities improve, the budget for the fire department will be enhanced to ensure that we provide citizens with quicker and more efficient response services.”

He would also like to see the fire department assume paramedic treatment, a service that is currently being run by Gold Coast Ambulance. He believes that it provides a more efficient model for emergency care and customer service. “This is because of the strategic location of fire stations,” he asserted, “and because of the quick need to intervene during life threatening emergencies.”

As for his management style, Williams hopes to lead both by example and by being clear about his expectations with his staff and with the community. He refers to this as “mutually aligning expectations with the mission of the organization.”

He also hopes to expand fire and public safety outreach to include such important topics as preventive strategies for community health. “I think it’s important to remember that preventing emergencies is the key for us all to be safe here in Oxnard,” he said.

Williams is the first African-American in Ventura County to be hired as a fire chief, a fact which he celebrates, not for his own sake, but because of the encouragement it might provide to some future firefighters. “It makes me proud,” he stated, “because young folks get a chance to see a person of color, someone like them, in a top position as a firefighter.”

But while he recognizes the significance of this accomplishment, he is quick to emphasize that his responsibility is to the whole community. “My role as a fire chief is to care for the entire population,” he said. “Being the first African-American fire chief in this city, I want to do well and keep the city safe, but it’s important to remember that I’m fire chief for all people.”

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