Felipe Rodriguez, a 21-year fire service veteran and the current fire chief of Folsom, will be the next fire chief to lead the Cosumnes Fire Department.
He will join the agency on Oct. 31 and succeed the retiring fire chief, Mike McLaughlin, in December. After that leadership transition, Rodriguez will be the head of an 180-member staff that serves the Elk Grove and Galt communities in a 157-square-mile area.
The Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) board, which governs the Cosumnes Fire Department, unanimously approved his contract with their district at their Oct. 7 meeting.
“I will faithfully serve this community,” Rodriguez told the CSD board. “I will serve side by side with the women and the men of this department and other directors of this great district.”
CSD Director Jim Luttrell noted the new fire chief’s starting date of Oct. 31 and joked that Rodriguez will have “probably one of the best Halloweens ever.”
Rodriguez was among 55 applicants who sought the Cosumnes fire chief position – 44% of them were from outside California and six were international applicants, according to a CSD staff report. The top applicants underwent a series of interviews before the CSD staff recommended Rodriguez for board approval.
CSD General Manager Joshua Green told Herburger staff that his staff sought an applicant who has experience as a chief officer in agencies that have a “history of progressive and proactive” program development, and reflects a commitment to the CSD’s values of high service standards, transparency, collaboration and ongoing staff training.
“Chief Rodriguez has a proven track record of supporting and implementing our common values,” Green said.
During a telephone interview, Rodriguez recalled that he told the interview panel about his family’s Central Valley roots that began in the 1940s when his grandfather emigrated from Mexico and worked in fields from Bakersfield to Woodland. He noted his grandfather’s pride when his grandson joined the Stockton Fire Department.
“For me to give back to the area that for decades gave so much to my family and allowed them to come into this country is an honor,” he said.
Rodriguez is a San Francisco native who began his service career when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1994 and served as a hospital corpsman. His military service set him on the course to becoming a firefighter and a paramedic. He noted that he first learned how to treat young sailors and Marines in the military before he later learned about working with elderly patients in paramedic school.
In his firefighting career, Rodriguez served as a firefighter-paramedic and a fire captain with the Stockton Fire Department before he moved to Southern California and worked as a battalion chief, a fire marshal and a training chief for the Oceanside Fire Department.
Rodriguez also earned his bachelor’s degree in occupational studies, and his master’s degree in emergency services administration at California State University, Long Beach.
He became Folsom’s fire chief in 2017 where he was involved in opening a fire station and expanding its services.
Steve Miklos, a former Folsom mayor and City Council member, told the CSD board on Oct. 7 that he never heard a grievance under Rodriguez’s leadership. He mentioned that Rodriguez was a prominent Folsom community member who had firefighters remove weeds from creeks and ponds during the city’s Community Service Day, and was always present at opening games for local Little League teams.
Miklos described the fire chief’s “success-oriented mentality” when mentoring his staff.
“He took the mentality from ‘I can’t believe you didn’t do it right the first time!’ to ‘Hey, you did pretty good – let’s take it to the next level,’” he said. “He gave them ownership of not only their jobs, but their careers.”
Rodriguez’s leadership in Folsom will be succeeded by Ken Cusano, a Folsom fire division chief and a Folsom native.
“There is nothing like having someone local being a part of the leadership team,” Rodriguez said about his successor.
The Cosumnes Fire Department’s next fire chief told Herburger staff that he looks forward to serving a diverse population, and creating relationships with community members and other local stakeholders. He noted that he’s also a fluent Spanish speaker, and he mentioned the CSD service area’s large Hispanic population.
“I’m proud to be a part of the Sacramento area for the last 28 years,” Rodriguez said.
Under his new Cosumnes Fire Department contract, he will be paid an annual base salary of $245,484 and he will also be eligible for pay raises and cost-of-living salary adjustments, according to a CSD staff report.
CSD board honors retiring Chief
During their Oct. 7 meeting, the CSD board honored McLaughlin for being named the Fire Chief of the Year by the California Fire Chiefs Association last month.
The association surprised him with the recognition during their annual meeting on Sept. 10.
“The real mark of a leader is when he leaves an organization in better shape than what it was when he arrived,” CSD Director Gil Albiani said. “And we can say that for you.”
McLaughlin, a 32-year fire service veteran, told the CSD board that he does not serve for such honors.
“I do what I do because I believe it and love it,” he said. “I don’t do it for this at all; this is about the most uncomfortable thing there is in my career – I’m just so incredibly humbled to be nominated, much less even considered for the award. It’s not about me, it’s about the men and women who provide the service, it’s about serving the community.”