The day-to-day life of a working firefighter can be grueling. It's not often that the men and women on the ground have an opportunity to look at the bigger picture of fire service in the region, or even the nation.
But Lodi Fire Battalion Chief Gene Stoddart has earned his place in an executive training program designed to give him a bird's eye view of how many fire departments get the job done.
Stoddart says he applied to the Executive Fire Officer Program with the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy to further his education while focusing on his career.
"I'm truly excited. I look forward to bringing everything I learn back to the department," he said.
Stoddart will spend four years studying how to make fire departments more proactive and focusing on risk reduction. He'll take four two-week courses during that time in Emmitsburg, Md., at the U.S. Fire Administration's headquarters. The first class starts next September, but the reading and homework assignments roll in over the summer.
"Back in Maryland, they have this vast library based on all research papers. There's a wealth of knowledge back there," he said.
He must complete a thesis-level project that relates to the Lodi Fire Department within six months of each course.
Stoddart is the first person in department history to enroll in the program, but Fire Chief Larry Rooney completed the program while working for the Peoria Fire Department in Peoria, Ariz. He said the courses teach everything from how to deal with large scale efforts like wildfires, to how to improve service in their own communities.
"It makes you take a more global approach to the fire service and what you deal with on an everyday basis. It's an executive look at the way things are handled across the country," said Rooney, who graduated from the program in 2004. "It's great for our department. It's definitely going to raise our level of service here."
Rooney said the process is very selective, but this was Stoddart's first time applying. To qualify, applicants must be a chief officer in their department and hold a bachelor's degree. Stoddart holds bachelor's and master's degrees in organizational management, and has earned several certifications over his career. A year ago, he qualified as a state fire marshal.
A graduate of Tokay High School in 1989, Stoddart joined the Mokelumne Fire District in 1993. He was promoted to captain in 1996 and then worked for the Linden Fire Department. He joined the Lodi Fire Department in 2003 and worked his way through the ranks of the department.
Stoddart just got the official word on Tuesday, and it's still sinking in.
"You don't hear of it that often. It's not for lack of talent, I know anyone in this department could do it," said Stoddart.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.