Ken Nielsen, Loleta Fire Chief: “All About the Community”

Megan Smith and her three-year-old, Kirby in the front seat of a fire truck. [Photo provided by Smith]

It started with a small gesture and grew…just as many of Ken Nielsen’s actions do. On February 3, Megan Smith posted pictures on her Facebook page showing the new decorations-firefighting images–in her small son’s room. Ken Nielsen, Chief of the Loleta Volunteer Fire Department saw and sent her a message even though he had never met her. “Does that little fire chief need a white chief helmet to hang on his wall?” Nielsen wrote. “I may be able to dig up an old one.”

Smith and Nielsen began exchanging messages. He eventually posted, “You got time tomorrow? We may even be able to do a fire engine ride.”

Kirby with Chief Nielsen

Kirby with Chief Nielsen at the Loleta Firehouse.

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.”

Sara Blum, Ken Nielsen, Lisa Neilson

Ken Nielsen and his two daughters: Sara Blum and Lisa Nielson. The photo was taken a four or five years ago, Nielsen said.

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 with his wife, Camie, and puppy number 10, Mirage

Nielsen with his wife, Camie, and puppy number 10, Mirage

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.




  • What a great story. Uplifting.

  • Loleta is very fortunate to have these folks.

  • unbridled phillistine

    Great story but all I can think is what beautiful puppy! Golden retrievers are superb breed.

  • What an awesome guy and great crew. ❤️

  • Great article.
    And that is one darn cute puppy. Awww….

  • Kenny used to have a dairy back in the day in Loleta. Back in the 90’s I worked there through my teens starting around age 14. Even back then he was very dedicated to the Loleta Volunteer Fire Dept. To this day he is the best boss I ever had. Good to see you and your family are doing well, Kenny!

  • There are rumors that this fine dude is going to run for HC Supervisor to unseat Rex Bon .

  • Great article!
    When are your two big fundraisers happening this year?

  • Thanks for such a great story and thanks for your service everyone down at the Loleta Fire Dept! We sure do see a lot of crazy stuff in our local news, but this story is a great reminder that there are some wonderful and incredible citizens in Humboldt. Some Hope! Lots of locals doing really dedicated, community-minded stuff. Here’s to hoping that continues.

  • Thank you camie am putting the dates in my calendar and encourage others to do the same ♡

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