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L.A. County's fire chief to retire after nearly 21 years

P. Michael Freeman, 64, announces that he will step down in March. He previously worked for 24 years at the Dallas Fire Department.

November 25, 2009|By Robert J. Lopez
  • Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman says he plans to pursue personal projects and spend more time with his family.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman says he plans to pursue… (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman announced Tuesday that he will retire in March after heading the department for 21 years.

In making the announcement, Freeman said he plans to spend more time with his family and pursue personal projects.

"It has been my honor and privilege to serve the people of Los Angeles County, alongside the most unselfish, caring and courageous men and women of the department," he said in a statement. "There were many challenges, but meeting them brought a great deal of satisfaction."

As head of the county Fire Department, Freeman oversees an agency that has long been considered a leader in firefighting tactics and strategy.

In addition to traditional structure and water-rescue units, the department has a large Air and Wildland Division that includes camp crews, bulldozer units and water-dropping helicopters.

Freeman is the second-longest-serving chief since Spence Turner, who commanded the department for 27 years from 1925 to 1952.

Freeman, 64, was allowed to keep his job past the mandatory retirement age of 60 as a result of a law signed in 2005 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Previously, the mandatory retirement age for county firefighters had been 60, but the law allowed county supervisors to let Freeman stay longer.

At times, Freeman was given to colorful, folksy terms when discussing firefighting tactics. At the command post for a 2007 wildfire in Malibu, Freeman used a football analogy to describe firefighters' efforts to save homes in an interview with a Times reporter.

"To think that you're not going to lose any structures with this kind of terrain and weather conditions," he said, "is like thinking you can play football on a wet field and not get your pants dirty."

Freeman was among five finalists when he was picked to head the county Fire Department in December 1988.

At the time, Freeman was chief of emergency operations for the Dallas Fire Department. He had spent 24 years in Dallas, where he rose through the ranks from rookie firefighter, driver-engineer and station fire captain before becoming second in command of the department.

Freeman was born in Santa Monica in 1945. He also lived in Redondo Beach, Monterey Park and Arcadia, where he attended elementary school.

His father worked for an insurance company and moved the family to Dallas.

Freeman attended Hillcrest High School in Dallas and graduated in 1969 from Southern Methodist University in Dallas with a bachelor's degree in public administration.

robert.lopez@latimes.com

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