Wednesday Sep 21 2011
For fire chief, home is where the Harley is
By: Menka Belgal, Telegraph Correspondent
A quick stop for groceries in 1988 led to David Roberts’ career with the El Dorado Hills Fire Department. He has been the El Dorado Hills fire chief since May 2011. Prior to that he was the administrative battalion chief in charge of training and the volunteer program for El Dorado Hills Fire Department. How did you get started in your career? I worked in the hi-tech industry for over 14 years as a supervisor for a large electronics firm. In 1984 they transferred me to a newly built facility located in Folsom. I purchased a home here in El Dorado Hills, and one day in 1988, I walked into Raley’s — the only store in town back then—and the El Dorado Hills Fire Department had a table out front of the store staffed by two fire fighters attempting to recruit new volunteers. I thought it would be a great way to give back to the community that I had grown to love. Little did I know that this one little decision would change my life. After the academy and a couple of years as a volunteer firefighter, I realized I had chosen a hi-tech career for the money. In the fire service, I had found something that I really loved doing, which led me to give up my hi-tech career. In 1993, when the El Dorado Hills Fire Department was expanding its service, I tested well enough, and was hired on as a career firefighter. That decision to switch careers was one of the best decisions I ever made. What do you love most about your job? Every day I get to work with a truly exceptional team of people. We never know what to expect from our day. Each day is different, and each emergency call is different, and each one typically ends with helping an El Dorado Hills resident. It is truly a great feeling to know that you’ve made a positive difference in someone’s life. What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you? They say you only get one “career fire” in your lifetime. I have been fortunate enough to have been assigned to two. I was on a strike team back in 1993 that was deployed to help battle the firestorms in Southern California. I figured with thousands of homes burned and acres scorched, that would be the biggest of my career. I was very wrong. In 2009 I was a strike team leader, along with El Dorado Hills Fire Chief David Kennedy, to an incident called the Witch Fire. We arrived in the wee hours of the morning. The Santa Ana winds were blowing in excess of 70 mph and the sight of thousands of homes and acres burning at night will always remain locked into my mind. We asked what other strike teams we had assigned with us, and (they said,) “You’re it for now.” We lost count, but I would estimate that our little team … from El Dorado County were responsible for saving over 80 homes in those three incredible days before we got any food and rest. What are some of your favorite places to travel to? I do a lot of traveling on my motorcycle, and have covered most of the USA and Canada. We have seen some amazing thing. If I had to pick three places as my favorite, I would have to say the 180 miles between Jasper and Banff. The National Parks in Alberta, Canada, were amazing. The scenery with the glaciers, and glacier-fed milky blue rivers and lakes, is simply beautiful. I love riding through the areas of Southern and Eastern Utah and Northern Arizona. What is your favorite movie and why? “Gattica” was kind of a “B” movie, but the message was that no matter how large the obstacle placed in front of you, or how great the challenge with the right drive and determination, the human spirit can overcome and allow you to reach any goal. What hobbies do you enjoy? Motorcycle touring, travel, scuba diving, flying as a private pilot, and cooking. Tell us about your family. My beautiful wife Sondra and I have three daughters and two sons. Our youngest daughter, currently in college, is the only one left at home, but all of our children still live in the area. Our middle daughter just graduated from law school. Our oldest daughter and her husband have a 2-year-old daughter that we enjoy spoiling on a regular basis, and a newborn daughter that will be spoiled. My two sons are carrying on the tradition and currently volunteer firefighters with the El Dorado Hills Fire Department. What are you most proud of? My family and this amazing fire department that I am privileged to be part of. What causes are you passionate about? I have been in charge of the Oak Ridge High School Every 15 Minute program for over 10 years now. It is designed to give our young adults a “significant emotional event” in an attempt to change a behavior, and make them think about the choices they make when confronted with drinking and driving, or getting in a vehicle with a driver who is intoxicated. Sadly though, as we make headway each year with reductions in the number of drinking-and-driving fatality accidents involving our youth, another killer of our young adults is gaining significant headway in challenging drunk driving as the main cause of fatality accidents. Each year distracted driving — cell phone calls and texting — fatality accidents are increasing at an alarming rate. If allowed to continue, (it) will soon surpass drunk driving fatality accidents involving our young adults. What is one thing about you people might be surprised to learn? That I have ridden my 2002 Harley Davidson Fire Fighter Special Edition Electra Glide Classic Motorcycle through all of the lower 48 states and through four Canadian provinces. Over the last few years a group of riding buddies and I have scheduled rides each summer that spanned anywhere from 3,000 miles up to 4,300 miles. This year we covered 29 states and two Canadian Provinces. It was an epic adventure that took us through the Blue Ridge Parkway, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and to Orange County. This trip signifies the third time my Harley and I have been coast to coast.