When Alicia Welch was a young adult in the 1990s, she was working for a parks and recreation department in Long Beach, California. One day, she noticed a note on her paycheck stub that said the Long …
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When Alicia Welch was a young adult in the 1990s, she was working for a parks and recreation department in Long Beach, California.
One day, she noticed a note on her paycheck stub that said the Long Beach Fire Department was recruiting female and minority firefighters.
She went and talked with her parents about it, and they, both being career police officers, set up a meeting for Welch to talk further about it with a Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) fire captain.
“And that’s how I knew,” Welch said. “Once I found out that women can be firefighters, I was all in. I love being able to help people, and I love the variety of work and the team atmosphere.”
Welch, 52, was sworn in on Nov. 26 as Golden Fire Department’s first female fire chief. She replaces Chief John Bales, who retired from the position after serving in it since 2001.
“The fire service is a family,” Welch said. “I’m grateful for my fire family in LA, and excited to become part of this fire family here in Golden.”
Welch brings with her a wealth of education — including a Master of Arts degree in Homeland Security/National Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California — and career experience.
“Beyond her extraordinary record of service and academic credentials, Welch stood out because of her deep dedication and passion to the fire service,” said Golden City Manager Jason Slowinski, noting she was one of about 60 highly qualified candidates who applied for the position. “She is community-focused and understands the relationship that the fire department has with our community, and will work to nurture and grow that relationship to the benefit of the citizens of Golden.”
Welch’s career includes more than 26 years of operational experience with the LAFD. Highlights of her career include being part of a team that responded to hurricanes Katrina and Rita as part of LAFD’s Critical Incident Stress Management Team. In 2009, she was selected as one of three distinguished fellows to work with the Department of Homeland Security/FEMA on a year-long assignment in developing a national preparedness model called Ready Responder. Her final assignment with LAFD was implementing the department’s recruitment plan and improving workforce diversity within the department.
“She is somebody who sets goals and is passionate about achieving them in a rational and methodological manner,” said Ralph Terrazas, the LAFD’s chief. “I saw her grow in each rank that she obtained. She is a high-caliber professional and will do great things with the Golden Fire Department.”
Welch retired from LAFD in June 2017 at age 50. She relocated to Golden within a week of her retirement celebration, joining her wife Rita Sommer — and their cat and dog — who had made the move prior to get settled into the community.
Welch is one of only about 50 women in the nation who are leading a fire department in the chief position, said Michelle Baade of Golden who has known Welch and Sommer for about 10 years.
“She is part of a special class of talented woman leaders who have dedicated their careers to the fire service,” Baade said. “This community is going to benefit greatly from her talent, her experience and her passion for fire safety.”
In April this year, Welch got what she called a second calling. She was pursuing one of her hobbies, hiking, at White Ranch and saw a sign at the Golden Gate Fire Station that read “volunteer firefighters needed.”
“I retired young and I felt like I had more to give,” Welch said. “I thought, I should be able to have all my hobbies and give back to the community in a meaningful way.”
Welch went to Fire Station 1 in Golden — that was the one she was most familiar with — but the Golden Fire Department was not recruiting at the time. When she returned later in August to inquire about volunteering — and to talk with someone about other ways Golden’s female firefighters can get involved mentoring younger girls — she learned that the position for fire chief had opened up.
“This job was worth going back to work again,” Welch said. “I have no doubt about it. This is the place for me.”
Welch’s skills and dedication will benefit the entire Golden community, said Golden Mayor Marjorie Sloan.
“And not incidentally, she will serve as an inspiration for the young girls of Golden,” Sloan said. “Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, wisely observed, `girls need to see role models in whatever career they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing that job someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.’”
Welch is looking forward to leading the Golden Fire Department, and, especially, strengthening the relationship between the fire department and the community.
“A fire department’s role in the community is like having that handy neighbor next door who is always willing to help,” Welch said. “The fire department is that neighbor who wants to help with your safety and assist you with preventing a problem in the first place.”
Welch has a passion to serve, excels in her ability to connect with the community and “always has the ability to identify other people’s talents and skills,” said Kristin Crowley, the deputy chief and fire marshal for LAFD’s Fire Prevention & Public Safety Bureau.
“Not everybody has those unique skill sets. We’re extremely proud of who she is and what she represents,” Crowley said. “We’re 100 percent behind her (and) it’s going to be a very positive match.”
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