By Mike Kinney
From enhancing the delivery of emergency medical services to increasing resources to support the mental health of firefighters, Richmond’s new fire chief brings a lengthy and ambitious list of goals to his new role.
Fire Chief Angel Montoya, who most recently served as Deputy Fire Chief for the Los Angeles County Fire Department, says residents can also expect to see more firefighters at community events and more open houses at fire stations as part of a broad effort to ensure the Richmond Fire Department is in the best position to protect and serve.
“Throughout my career I have always considered myself a public servant and I have not forgotten why I am here,” Chief Montoya told the Standard. “That is to serve the public first and foremost, I always have and will be loyal to the community I serve. It’s important for Richmond residents to know my administration is here to serve them.”
Chief Montoya succeeds Adrian Sheppard, who accepted the position of fire chief in Redmond, Wash., early this year after leading the RFD since 2014. Montoya brings over three decades of experience to the RFD, having served his first two years with the Santa Monica Fire Department followed by the County of Los Angeles Fire Dept for 33 years. As deputy chief in LA, Montoya oversaw about 2,600 personnel and 76 stations across Los Angeles County.
The new chief comes to Richmond with a focus on building strong bonds with the firefighters who serve the city, and also with Richmond residents. He says he plans to meet with each member of the RFD, to begin a dialogue so he’s aware of any issues and concerns.
“I plan to begin building trust with each member of our department and let them know I am here support for them,” Montoya said.
He said he also aims to implement “focused training” in the RFD to address issues such as firefighters’ mental health.
In terms of getting to know the Richmond community, Chief Montoya’s past roles show experience in reaching out and communicating with important stakeholders. In Los Angeles, he served as the County fire department’s first Bilingual Public Information Officer and Inspector, where he developed fire safety and education programs for Spanish speaking communities. He said he aims to continue that outreach in Richmond, in part with a focus on augmenting Community Emergency Response Team program efforts.
Speaking of putting out fires, Chief Montoya said he’s also focused on furthering the RFD’s efforts to prepare for wildfires.
“It’s important to have resident preparedness before the incident occurs,” he said, in part via a wildfire preparedness and evacuation guide that includes notifications, implementing defensible spaces, tips on red flag warnings, and also training for firefighters ie “Wildland Interface Preparedness Exercises.”
Montoya was born in El Paso, Tex., and raised in Los Angeles. He earned an associates degree in Fire Science from Rio Honda City College and a bachelor of arts degree in Applied Studies at Brandman University.
The chief said he was inspired to become a firefighter because he wanted to become a paramedic, where he can have a “skill-set to help people in their time of need, when they have no one else to call.”
“I realized by becoming a firefighter, I would receive that training at paramedic school,” Montoya said. “From there, I would be able to serve people and help to save people’s lives by helping them to the best of my ability.”