Ken Nielsen, Loleta Fire Chief: “All About the Community”
Smith and Nielsen began exchanging messages. He eventually posted, “You got time tomorrow? We may even be able to do a fire engine ride.”
Later, when we reached out to him, he pointed out that most fire departments have a program to allow kids to get comfortable around firefighters and their trucks. Loleta’s program has many opportunities for the very young to young adult.
“We always have our doors open if there is a child that wants to come and see the fire engine,” Nielsen explained. “It doesn’t hurt anything to give them a ride as long as their parents are there. If we can, on birthday parties, we take an engine down and take [the guests] on a ride.”
He added that Loleta Fire also has an Explorer program. “We piggyback off Fortuna and learn from them,” he explained. “They have had really good results. The Explorer program is for youth ages 15 to 21…They train alongside of us. There are some calls they can go along with us…They can’t go inside a burning building.”
Nielsen’s family has a history of community service. Nielsen’s children are all volunteers at the fire department with him. “I have three daughters and they are all the department with me,” he said. “Well, one moved to Chico and she only helps when she comes back now.”
In addition, his wife and one of his daughters began raising guide dogs for the blind. When his daughter moved out, Nielsen began helping, too. “We raise them about 18 months,” Nielsen said. “This is our 11th puppy. You’d think it would be hard but when you take them back and you see the blind people practicing with the already trained dogs then you realize that you are doing something that matters.”
Nielsen, who has been chief for 14 years, wanted to make sure his crew and his wife got a lot of the credit for what he does. He acknowledged that being a chief is a lot of responsibility and there is “quite a bit of training to comply with state requirements. But, he said, “I have a great crew. They make my work easy. Everyone knows what to do.”
The Loleta Fire crew and their families also raise money to equip the department. “We have an annual antique show and we have a pretty good sized flea market,” Nielsen explained. “Those two big events plus a fund drive pretty much keeps us floating.”
Nielsen credits his wife for her work on the fundraisers. “She’s my support and she helps with the fundraising,” he said. “My wife is wonderful during the flea market. She does the kitchen.”
Finding ways to make the fire equipment accessible to kids is one of the parts of his volunteer job that Nielsen enjoys. “It was really neat,” he said. “Like always the kids are really shy at first. After 20 minutes they are climbing all over.”
Nielsen said that all the firefighters “love to show the kids the trucks.” He added, “That is what we are all about–the community.”
From fire trucks to guide dogs, Nielsen and his family are indeed all about the community.