Rob Lindner, who was among the first paramedics hired by the Woodside Fire Protection District, officially took over as the district's fire chief on April 25.
As a trained paramedic, he was in a prime position when the first paramedics were assigned to fire trucks in 1994, shortly before he joined the district.
Outgoing Chief Dan Ghiorso said Lindner took a leadership role by learning how to do electrocardiogram tests to diagnose heart attacks in the field, and brought that knowledge back to teach other district firefighters.
"He learned how to do EKG in the field on his own," Ghiorso said. "That was a big undertaking that we asked him to do, and he did it very well."
Today, almost all of the district's firefighters have received paramedic training following in the footsteps of the original group of paramedics who were hired from outside.
Lindner has prepped for the top job through a steady rise through the ranks in the district from fire captain to battalion chief to deputy fire chief.
His major concern going forward is protecting Woodside and Portola Valley from wildfires, he said.
The district, which provides services for Woodside, Portola Valley and nearby areas, will be working with both towns to keep vegetation under control, encouraging "home hardening," which consists of making roofs, walls and other parts of the home more fire resistant, and preparing for the need to evacuate the area, he said.
Lindner also wants to maintain the district's strong ties with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Cooperation with Cal Fire is essential since both towns border on state lands, and the district has created what's known as a mutual threat zone with the state agency that calls for cooperation when a fire starts in either space.
"The district has a coverage area of 32 square miles with local land and state land combined, so there's a lot of area to cover," Lindner said.
The new chief has plenty of firefighting experience, highlighted by a leadership role in fighting the Skeggs Fire that burned about 50 acres in the hills above Woodside over five days in 2017.
He also worked the Santana Row fire that burned a shopping center while it was under construction in San Jose in 2002. There, he and his crew were responsible for tending to a fire in a nearby apartment complex.
"Embers flew from the main fire and started a couple of other structure fires," he said. "There were a lot of scared people."
The district joined San Mateo County's EMS Joint Powers Authority, which oversees ambulance service in the county, when it was first organized in 1998; it maintains its own ambulance, provided by American Medical Response (AMR), the county's ambulance contractor. The district operates the ambulance with its own personnel.
AMR places the ambulances it operates at different positions throughout the county so they can respond anywhere, but since Woodside and Portola Valley are on the rural outskirts, the district places a priority on having its own ambulance it can count on for a fast response.
A big issue coming up at the end of the year: the district's negotiations with its firefighters' union over a new labor contract.
"There's nothing pressing that should lead to either one of us thinking that it's going to be difficult," he said.
In addition, Lindner will be chief as the district plans to build a new Station 7 on Woodside Road in Woodside and remodel Station 8 in Portola Valley. The district plans to begin a fundraising campaign through its nonprofit foundation to complete the work.
The new Station 7 will be larger, with increased space for the fire trucks and equipment and for the firefighters. In Portola Valley, the district is increasing the interior space so that the fire engines can get out in case of an earthquake.
Lindner is married with three children and lives in Tracy, he says, to take advantage of the lower cost of living; he commutes to Woodside four days a week.
"You need good people who are ethical and honest and have great integrity," Ghiorso said. "It made my departure so much easier knowing that he was coming in."