It isn’t the first time Chief David Lantzer has run a fire department – it’s not even the second. When he took over for Murrieta Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Ferguson late last month, it marked his third stint as a chief.
Lantzer came to Murrieta Fire and Rescue four years ago, leaving a fire chief post with the city of Hermosa Beach where he spent almost seven years. He spent almost five years as fire chief for the city of Holtville after serving as a fire captain for Calexico and Holtville before that.
Lantzer took over for Ferguson who accepted a position helping to build the city of Placentia’s new, independent fire department that is set to open in 2020.
In turning over the reins to Lantzer, who served as deputy fire chief during his first four years, Ferguson said he has full confidence in the job he will do for the city.
“Chief Lantzer has a number of skills as a leader, but it’s his heart that makes him special,” Ferguson said. “As a former fire chief, he believes in the essence of our mission to serve, already has the trust of his people and has demonstrated a work ethic to make the department’s goals stick.”
Lantzer said that so far, the transition has been a smooth one.
“Since I’ve been in Murrieta for four years and this is my third fire chief’s job, the transition has gone very smoothly,” Lantzer said. “The challenge is filling the position I vacated. I’m currently trying to juggle both fire chief and deputy chief responsibilities. We’ll be rotating our battalion chiefs as interim deputy chiefs until we can recruit.”
“When I first came to MFR four years ago, I had been a fire chief for over 11 years,” Lantzer said. “And, yet, I still looked forward to working with and sharing ideas with another fire chief, especially one that I already highly respected. I learned much from working with Chief Ferguson, and I will forever be indebted to him. If he picked up a fraction from me that I learned from him, then he learned tons from me.”
He said the progress the fire agency has made over the past four years is impressive – considering Murrieta Fire and Rescue is an internationally accredited fire agency, which he said is “the gold standard in the fire service.”
“It was fun building a team together and to see how far the men and women of Murrieta Fire and Rescue have come in four years,” Lantzer said. “It’s actually quite amazing. From a still recession-decimated organization to an accredited fire agency in four years. Absolutely amazing. And Chief Ferguson was the architect and builder-in-chief in accomplishing that feat.”
Lantzer said there are 259 fire agencies accredited in the world, mostly in the United States, Canada and U.S. military fire agencies.
Murrieta Fire and Rescue was the first in Riverside County and is one of only 19 accredited fire agencies in all of California.
“I can’t underestimate the exclusivity of being an accredited fire agency,” Lantzer said. “It doesn’t mean we’re perfect; on the contrary, it means that we’ve identified areas where we’re falling short in serving our community and have implemented plans with timelines to address those shortcomings. And it’s a continuous process, not a one-time project.
“We will continue to engage our community to assess, analyze, discuss, argue and disagree with one another, and sometimes even agree with one another, and implement changes. We celebrate our successes and learn from our mistakes,” he said.
Lantzer said he is looking forward to continuing to build upon those successes – and mistakes – by utilizing similar techniques the leadership team has employed.
“Being a part of rebuilding MFR over the past four years, I have had the opportunity to work with the entire MFR team in setting a course, changing directions when necessary, celebrating successes and learning from our failures,” he said. “We’ve shed blood together, so to speak and share leadership scars. This process will continue, as this is what it takes to continuously improve how we serve our community. We will hold a planning retreat later this year, which we do every year, to review our goals and objectives and ensure they are still applicable and implement adjustments as needed.”
Lantzer said those groups and committees have identified concerns such as the need to relocate two stations and add another station to keep up with impending growth in the community, the need for a local fire training center, inadequate public education programs and renovations needed at two stations and the fleet maintenance facility.
Lantzer said he is looking forward to tackling those issues.
“I really want to make significant progress toward meeting some major capital needs – understanding that only a few of them may be implemented by the time I retire,” he said. “Fiscal restraints alone make that necessary. Most time-sensitive are two station renovations to accommodate the addition of two units to our deployment model and apparatus replacement, we are continuing to make progress in updating our fleet since delaying new purchases throughout the recession years; we still experience increased out-of-service times from some of our older units that should have been replaced a few years ago, but they are up for replacement in the next few years.
“If the most pressing of these capital projects are implemented and the foundation of the remaining has been laid for my immediate successor to implement, then I’ll feel I’ve satisfactorily served our community and organization,” he said.
Lantzer outlined his strengths as a leader.
“My wife will be surprised to hear this, but I have become a good listener,” he said. “Our MFR team members know that I require their viewpoint and opinion on matters. Over the past four years, we have had thousands of hours of discussions to hammer out everything from broad goals to detailed tasks. In order to be able to do this as a leader, one must have a team he or she can trust … and I fully trust my team. I challenge them and they challenge me, not personally, but in order to determine the best course of action. I trust our 30-plus committees and workgroups of three to seven members each that represent all ranks and positions in our organization. Our committees and workgroups really dive into the details of their respected chartered responsibilities. They provide presentations and make recommendations directly to command staff. Again, I must emphasize that this strength of mine is reliant on the tremendous trust I have in our folks.”
He admits he’s still improving as a conversationalist.
“The flip side of being a good listener is that I’m not much of a conversationalist,” Lantzer said. “I listen and ask questions and listen some more. I’m very opinionated, but I’ve learned that everyone has an opinion and, well, idle conversation is not my strength, but I’m working on trying to identify what’s important to others and engage them in conversation regarding that.”
“I’m married to the most kind-hearted person I’ve ever known – 30 years next March,” he said. “I give Juana full credit for my career accomplishments. I’m a firm believer that a strong, stable and loving home life is critical for professional success. I’ve seen careers derailed because an individual’s personal life was in chaos. We also have two sons, one served in the Marines and the other is still serving in the U.S. Army. We’re very proud of their service. Each of them has blessed us with a grandchild. Finally, we have a fur baby at home named Jake, a miniature poodle. He is the most spoiled of our kids.”
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.