SLO Fire Chief to Retire

The San Luis Obispo Fire Department will need a new permanent leader with the announced retirement of Fire Chief Garrett Olson.

According to a City news release, Chief Olson will retire Oct. 30 putting in some 30 years total with the fire service, serving with several different departments over his long career.

A second-generation firefighter and fire chief, Olson began his fire service career in 1988 with the Orange County, California Fire Department. He joined the Mesa, Ariz., Fire Department in 1990 as a firefighter/paramedic and rose to the rank of deputy fire chief. 

In 2001, he was deployed to New York to assist with recovery from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In 2004, the City of Scottsdale, Ariz., recruited Olson to help build its new municipal fire department, where he became Chief in 2011. 

In 2012, Olson returned to California, his home state, to become San Luis Obispo’s first deputy fire chief and a year later, was named Chief following the retirement of Chief Charlie Hines.

“Keith is a consummate fire professional,” City Manager Derek Johnson said, “and has demonstrated a commitment of innovation and excellence and being lifelong resident and fire professional, ready to continue his service to the City of San Luis Obispo.”

Olson’s career is marked by innovation and planning to position the department to best serve the needs of San Luis Obispo residents, businesses, and visitors, according to the news release.

In his 6-year tenure with SLO City Fire, Olson made significant contributions with a focus on community and firefighter safety and sustainable operations. He oversaw the completion of the department’s first, “Five-Year Strategic Plan;” the updating of the City’s “Fire Master Plan” that ensures “continuity of services in developing areas of the City;” a new contract for fire and medical services to Cal Poly in anticipation of the University’s future growth; and implemented progressive dispatch protocols to quicken response times. 

Olson updated firefighters’ protective gear, oversaw upgrades to its older facilities, addressed radio system needs, and established a fire apparatus replacement cycle.

Olson encouraged the use of technology to improve the department’s operations and processes, to engage local businesses on fire safety, and to activate citizen-rescuers with the PulsePoint smartphone app. His technological skills “were valuable during the 18-months he served as both fire chief and on the City’s Information Technology Team, where he supported the implementation of enhanced online collaboration tools,” reads the release.

Chief Olson said, “Serving this community has been the opportunity of a lifetime. While I wish we had discovered SLO earlier in our lives, I believe my wife and I have an unsurpassed appreciation for this amazing community. I leave this long and wonderful career with a heart full of gratitude. It has been an incredible honor to serve. I look forward to many years of enjoying and giving back.”

Chief Olson plans to continue to live in San Luis Obispo with his wife of 27 years, Susan, and plans to continue to volunteer in civic organizations, such as Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, RISE SLO, and Senior Volunteer Services, among others. 

Deputy Fire Chief Keith Aggson has been named interim fire chief as of Oct. 31, and Johnson said the City would soon begin the process to select its next fire chief. 

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