Almanac

News - April 13, 2011

Dan Ghiorso named new chief of the Woodside fire district

by Dave Boyce

Battalion Chief Dan Ghiorso will take over as fire chief of the Woodside Fire Protection District on May 1, according to current chief Armando Muela, who retires this month. An induction ceremony for Mr. Ghiorso is set for April 25.

Mr. Ghiorso, 51, is one of five battalion chiefs in the district, four of whom were eligible for the job, said Peter Berger, a member of the district's three-person board of directors. Only Mr. Ghiorso applied for the chief's job and he was hired on a unanimous vote on March 28, Mr. Berger said.

"I assume (the other battalion chiefs) wanted him to be chief," Mr. Berger said.

"That's a fairly good assumption," Battalion Chief Don Romero said in a phone interview. Mr. Romero has tentative plans to retire within a year and would have had to move from Sacramento to take the job. "I think Dan will make a fine chief," he added. "He's very interested in the job."

The board limited the candidate pool to battalion chiefs inside the district, a practice that's been going on for at least 50 years, said Mr. Berger, who's been on the board for 25 years.

"We have within the organization great resources who know the organization and know the people," he said. "There's no need to bring a stranger in."

The board also does not want the Woodside district to serve as a stepping stone for chiefs interested in big-city positions in San Francisco or San Jose, Mr. Berger said.

The Woodside district is a career-oriented organization with a deep bench, Mr. Berger said, adding that he knows of at least one regular firefighter in the district who is chief material. "Frankly," he said, "if something were to happen to Dan, I have no doubt (the district) would have several very, very qualified candidates."

Former mechanic

Mr. Ghiorso is a native of San Francisco and began his working career as an auto mechanic in Colma, he said in a phone interview. The idea of firefighting came to him after watching a calamity unfold at work in the shop one day.

"We had a man die on us and we didn't have any training," he said, adding that the man was in his late 60s and was probably having a heart attack. "We basically watched while we waited for an ambulance. I never wanted to watch that again."

He took a first-aid class and someone recommended firefighting, so he enrolled at the College of San Mateo. Though in his early 30s, he was told his age was not a drawback to starting a new and demanding career, he said.

He came to the Woodside district as a cadet in 1991, began working fulltime as a firefighter in 1993, and advanced to paramedic, then captain for seven years, and battalion chief for four years, he said.

Mr. Ghiorso is married and has five children and lives in Foster City. He's been coaching youth baseball since 1974, he said.

His compensation will be identical to that of outgoing Chief Armando Muela: $189,500 plus health care, Mr. Ghiorso said.

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