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Wednesday, November 21 , 2018, 10:49 am | Mostly Cloudy 65º


Santa Maria Celebrates New Fire Chief With Hometown Roots

Badge-pinning ceremony marks promotion of Leonard Champion to top job in Santa Maria Fire Department

Chief Leonard Champion takes the oath from Chief Deputy City Clerk Rhonda Garietz to become new leader of the Santa Maria Fire Department on Tuesday night. Click to view larger
Chief Leonard Champion takes the oath from Chief Deputy City Clerk Rhonda Garietz to become new leader of the Santa Maria Fire Department on Tuesday night. (Janene Scully /  Noozhawk photo)

A native of Santa Maria received his badge to become the newest chief of the city’s Fire Department.

Chief Leonard Champion’s badge-pinning ceremony kicked off Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, after he took the oath of office.

Champion, 47, has worked for the Fire Department since 1990. He started as a reserve firefighter, was promoted to full-time firefighter in 1993 and rose to the rank of battalion chief.

“Members of the City Council, it is with great pride I introduce our next new fire chief, our Chief Leonard Champion,” City Manager Rick Haydon said.

“Chief Champion is highly respected among peers and members of the Santa Maria Fire Department of which a number are here this evening,” Haydon said. 

The new chief’s family, retired firefighters and current staff filled the council chambers for the ceremony.

“My heart’s pounding out of my chest and my mouth is a little dry,” Champion said, thanking the City Council, Haydon and staff for the chance to lead the department. 

“It’s an amazing privilege and honor to be given this opportunity to lead the Santa Maria Fire Department,” Champion added. “I’m extremely proud to able to give back to this community in which I born and raised.”

He replaces former chief Dan Orr who left a year ago for job in Washington. After Orr left, the city hired Scott Kenley to serve as interim chief.

Two rounds of searches ended with Champion’s promotion.

With their two children looking on, Champion’s wife of 20 years, Melody, pinned on his new badge.

Santa Maria Fire Chief Leonard Champion hugs his wife, Melody, after a badge-pinning ceremony Tuesday night. Click to view larger
Santa Maria Fire Chief Leonard Champion hugs his wife, Melody, after a badge-pinning ceremony Tuesday night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Champion, son of Mike and Nancy, grew up in Santa Maria and graduated from Righetti High School in 1987. 

The new chief’s interest in the firefighting career was sparked at a young age — his father was reserve firefighting captain in Santa Maria.

Champion has a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach, and teaches at Allan Hancock College in the Fire Science Division.  

He also is heavily involved in the countywide delivery of Emergency Medical Services and is a member of the Santa Barbara County EMS Advisory Committee.

“The Fire Department is like a family, It’s an extended family, so I have my family and my extended family. All of you have made me who I am today, ” Champion said. 

“I can’t thank you enough for how much you’ve done for me over the years — you’ve impressed me, you’ve inspired me and I owe my gratitude and debt to all of you,” he said.

The Fire Department has 62 personnel, and operates five stations serving the entire community, plus a sixth fire station dedicated to serving the Santa Maria Public Airport. 

Last year, the department responded to 9,970 calls for service.

The new chief said he is excited about this new venture.

“I’m committed to continuing the excellent service that we provide to our community and I want to thank you again for putting your trust in me," Champion said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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