Cosumnes Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin will end his 32 years of fire service when he retires in December. The Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) announced his planned retirement on July 22.
“I want to retire while I’m still running to the finish line, instead of limping and being dragged to the finish line,” he told the Citizen.
McLaughlin was the Merced fire chief before he moved to the CSD to serve as their deputy fire chief in 2014. He was promoted to CSD fire chief three years later.
“We thank him for his dedicated and selfless service to our community and wish him all the best in retirement,” CSD General Manager Joshua Green said in a press statement.
During his interview, McLaughlin reflected on his career that had its humble beginning when the Martinez native started as a reservist for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection. He went on to become the only paid firefighter in the rural Lake County community of Middletown. That town was surrounded by 200 square miles of open land, and he was often the lone firefighter on duty whenever there were no volunteer firefighters around. He said that his experience was the “cornerstone” for the rest of his career.
“I learned how to do things there because there wasn’t anybody else to do them,” McLaughlin recalled. “The experience I gained there was truly a blessing.”
He later worked as a firefighter for 14 years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is the workplace of nearly 10,000 employees. McLaughlin moved on to the Merced Fire Department where he served as division chief and later fire chief.
In 2014, he told the Citizen that he considered the Merced Fire to be his extended family.
“When you work with people for a long time and you commit your heart and soul, you make a bond,” he said.
That year, McLaughlin succeeded John Michelini who retired as Cosumnes deputy fire chief.
In his recent interview, he noted the challenge of arriving to another fire department as a manager.
“Having come into the organization from the outside can be a difficult challenge,” McLaughlin said. “You’re coming in as a manager and a leader for an organization that you didn’t grow up in, and it’s important to respect the culture and understand the history. This organization from the very beginning has been open arms in helping me become a part of the family.”
During his work as fire chief, McLaughlin also co-founded the Behavioral Health Committee to offer support and resources to firefighters and their families, and he helped launch the Sacramento Regional Fire Diversity & Equity Task Force to attract more people from different backgrounds into the fire service. The fire department also secured grant funding to restore eight positions that were lost during the late 2000s recession.
This spring, Cosumnes Fire began facing the challenge of serving the community when the COVID-19 pandemic began. On March 10, an elderly Elk Grove resident was the first patient to die from the respiratory illness in Sacramento County. The county went on to have 9,418 confirmed cases and 121 deaths, as of July 28. Elk Grove had 968 cases and eight deaths during that period.
“The abnormal has become the normal, and that goes through all of our personal lives,” McLaughlin said.
He noted that firefighters have the daily situation where they do not know if a patient is infected with COVID-19.
“How do you protect yourself and also not expose yourself at work and take (the virus) home to your family?” McLaughlin said.
The fire chief mentioned that his fire department was the first to decontaminate their disposable respirators. He said they started that practice due to an uncertainty in the supply chain.
“If the supply was unable to keep up with demand then at least we have the (apparatus) in place,” he said.
The CSD staff is now seeking his successor and they held an online community meeting on July 28 to gather public feedback on what they desire to see in their next fire chief. Their fire department serves a 157-square mile area that includes the Elk Grove and Galt communities.
McLaughlin said he would have the same advice for his successor as he heard from the previous Cosumnes fire chief, Tracey Hansen.
“Take care of this beloved organization,” he said. “This is a special community, and a special organization that is never satisfied; it’s always striving to do better.”
McLaughlin added that a fire chief’s role is to make sure that his or her staff is always improving.
“Whether it is the great recession or COVID, we can’t lose sight of what makes us Cosumnes,” he said.