Fire chief

Retired Cosumnes Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin (left) hands a firefighter's speaking trumpet to his successor, Felipe Rodriguez during a change-of-command ceremony on Dec. 2.

Felipe Rodriguez was sworn in as the Cosumnes Fire Department’s new fire chief during a change-of-command ceremony on Dec. 2.

COVID-19 safety restrictions limited the audience’s size in the Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) Board’s chambers that night.  

During his speech, Rodriguez noted that he learned in the U.S. Navy that challenges are nothing more than opportunities.

“Therefore, we have found an opportunity to celebrate this memorable day in just a different  way,” he said.

The former Folsom fire chief succeeds Mike McLaughlin who retired as Cosumnes fire chief this month. McLaughlin ceremonially passed a firefighter’s speaking trumpet to Rodriguez.  

“Tonight, it is truly my honor to pass that torch to you, and please by all means, take care of this beloved fire department,” he told his successor in his farewell speech.

Rodriguez is now the Cosumnes Fire Department’s fourth fire chief since the agency formed in 2006. He joined the department in October and he officially took command last week.

“I truly look forward to working with each of you in the years ahead,” Rodriguez told the fire agency that serves the Elk Grove and Galt communities in a 157-square-mile area.

The new fire chief was among 55 applicants from around the world who applied for the Cosumnes fire chief position after McLaughlin announced his retirement this summer. CSD Board President Orlando Fuentes was on an interview panel who reviewed the finalists for the job.

“You stood out head and shoulders above the others,” he told the chosen applicant.

Rodriguez is a San Francisco native who attended Cosumnes River College before he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He trained as a hospital corpsman and he went on to work as a firefighter and a paramedic for the Stockton Fire Department. He stayed with them for 13 years and worked his way up to fire captain.

Rodriguez’s career path took him to the Oceanside Fire Department where he served as a battalion chief and a fire marshal. He then led the Folsom Fire Department’s 77-member staff and worked on projects such as opening a new fire station and adding an ambulance company.

Cosumnes Fire now plans to begin operating the future Fire Station 77 on Poppy Ridge Road in 2022. The local Laguna Ridge area is expected to continue growing and the Wilton Rancheria plans open their casino-resort near the fire station later this decade.

During his speech, CSD General Manager Joshua Green mentioned his agency noted their “ideal candidate” when they announced the job opening for fire chief.

“We never anticipated identifying a candidate who could check as many of the boxes as Chief Felipe Rodriguez did,” he said.

After Green swore him into his position, the new fire chief thanked his wife and children.

“(They) endured many long days and nights, missed holidays, missed events,” he said. “That’s just what firefighters’ families do.”

McLaughlin says farewell

McLaughlin ended his 32-year career of firefighting that included a job when he was the only paid firefighter for the rural Middletown community in Lake County.

“It’s more than just a career, it’s most than just a job – it’s a calling,” he said in his farewell speech during the change-of-command ceremony. “Having the ability to serve this calling for 32 years has been a blessing in my life and the life of my family.”

McLaughlin joined Cosumnes Fire in 2014 after he served as the fire chief for Merced. He was promoted to Cosumnes fire chief three years later. He retired during the same year when the California Fire Chiefs Association honored him as the Fire Chief of the Year.

“I came into this organization as your colleague and you leave this organization as one of my dearest friends,” Green told McLaughlin at the ceremony.  

McLaughlin said that his most important responsibility as the Cosumnes fire chief was taking care of his staff’s culture. He referred to them as a family.

“I know this will be an amazing organization going into the future,” he said. “The culture is rich.” McLaughlin also paid tribute to his parents and the rest of his family for their support during his long career. He then turned his attention to his wife, Denise.

“You’re my soulmate, my best friend,” McLaughlin said. “And I’m coming home.”

The Christmas toy drive that inspired Rodriguez to become a firefighter

Every December, the Cosumnes Fire staff collaborates with the Elk Grove and Galt police departments to collect donated toys and deliver them to local families in need as part of the Toy Project.

In his speech during Cosumnes Fire’s change-of-command ceremony on Dec. 2, their new fire chief, Felipe Rodriguez noted he was inspired by a toy drive organized by the San Francisco Fire Department 40 years ago. He mentioned the fire crew at Fire Station 15, near the City College of San Francisco.  

“What may have been a simple Christmas toy drive to them, meant the world to me,” Rodriguez said. “We just never know who we might inspire.”

He later told the Citizen about how the toy drive inspired him as a child to become a firefighter.

In 1980, Rodriguez’s family was experiencing financial challenges and his mother signed up her children to be a part of the San Francisco Fire Department’s Christmas toy program, which aids families in need. She returned to Station 15 to pick up their gifts and Rodriguez received a Nerf football for Christmas.

“I learned how to play football because of it,” Rodriguez recalled.

He said that it was during that Christmas when he decided to join the firefighting service.  

 “Since becoming a firefighter over two decades ago, I’ve been a part of ensuring we, as firefighters, give back to our community,” the fire chief said.

Last week, the Cosumnes Fire staff and the Elk Grove police organized a Santa & Sirens display at Cosumnes Fire’s training center in Elk Grove. More than 1,000 people visited the two-night attraction and many donated unwrapped gifts for the Toy Project.

“Having first-hand knowledge, I know that in a few weeks, some girl or boy will open a gift and have the biggest smile on their face,” Rodriguez said. “Who knows, 40 years from now, they may send the Elk Grove Citizen a similar story as the one I’m sending you today.”