Douglas A. Williams began his career in fire protection as an Explorer Scout in high school and worked as a firefighter while earning his degree in industrial engineering at Cal Poly.
After twenty-five years in the field, his contributions have earned him the title of Fire Chief of the Year. The award was presented by the California Fire Chief's Association on September 20 at the annual association conference in Riverside, CA.
Williams, a 1979 Cal Poly industrial engineering graduate, serves as chief of the Rincon Valley Fire Protection District (RVFPD). In presenting the award, Darrel Mead, chair of the RVFPD Board of Directors, called Williams a "true leader" and "change-agent in the fire service."
A past president of the Sonoma County Fire Prevention Officer's Association, Williams served as Fire Marshal for 11 years, before becoming fire chief in 1996. In those capacities, he helped institute a countywide fire code and lead the effort to require fire sprinkler systems.
Throughout his career, Williams has sought to improve public safety by creating partnerships with other organizations, such as the Redwood Empire Association of Code Officials, and he has been an active member and volunteer leader in a wide variety of community and service groups as well as local, state and national fire service organizations.
Although Williams worked as an industrial engineer for several years after receiving his Cal Poly degree with A. O. Smith Corporation and Hewlett Packard, his senior project reflected his ongoing interest in fire protection. "My senior project was focused on the consolidation of fire protection agencies," says Williams, who credits the support of Professor Don Kahn, who helped put "the theoretical applications into a practical form."
"The late Dr. Don Morgan, department head, was also extremely supportive and helped provide the inspiration needed to progress," Williams notes. "Indeed, every faculty member in the industrial engineering department helped support my progress."
In addition to the mentorship Williams received while at Cal Poly, he also explains that his engineering education also provided excellent preparation:
"The industrial engineering degree helped prepare me to solve problems analytically. Some of the core functions of industrial engineering deal with the expected probabilities of various functions that can be used to determine the more efficient outcomes. In the case of fire protection, the events are more or less random, but tend to follow certain patterns. When determining the best methods for deploying resources it is helpful to be able to use the more scientific processes in doing the analysis. Several years ago, an article in one of the fire service magazines included an analysis of the European fire service and noted that every fire chief surveyed had a degree in industrial engineering."
Asked to identify the highlight of his career, Williams said, "In many ways the highlight has been the ability to participate in productive change at the state and national level and the influence it has in delivering emergency service."
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