The city of Temecula has a new fire chief in place, effective May 11, and he said recently that with the weather beginning to heat up here in southwest Riverside County, the department is as prepared as they can be for fire season.
“We have done our due diligence with the county, we have worked with our local partners, we have our agreements in place,” Chief John Crater said during an interview with Valley News outside of Temecula’s city hall recently. “We have really, really set an emphasis on the local area here, especially De Luz, with policies and procedures and as far as evacuations of where to put people if we have a fire up there. Working with our cooperative partners, we have a plan. We know we’re going to have fires; we just have to be prepared for them. I think we’re about as prepared as we can get at this point.”
Crater replaces interim Division Chief Bill Weiser who stepped in to temporarily serve Temecula. Weiser was filling in for former Chief Jodie Gray, who was put on leave after she was arrested in 2019 in a domestic violence case.
Weiser has resumed his post as division chief for Bautista/San Jacinto.
Crater started his firefighting career in November 1994 as a volunteer firefighter at Station 9 Good Meadow in Riverside County. He said he has a great appreciation for volunteer firefighters and will continue to develop the local program.
“Volunteerism is very near and dear to my heart because I was a volunteered for five years, and I know what it takes to do that,” he said. “You’re not getting paid. It’s just something to give back to the community. So, I’ll be supporting them. I made that very clear in the first couple of weeks here and even during my interview for this job, that was one of my goals.”
He also said he wants to continue to support and develop the department’s Explorer program.
“Not that they don’t have support, but we can always do other things to improve the program and bring our youth to the program,” Crater said. “That’s what we need, we need that for the future. We need that good stable training platform to be able to take these young adults from 14 to 18 years old into the future and see if this is what they really want to do.
“The program has retreats and leadership academies. We go to Fort Irwin and we actually do live fire training and rescue training with them and they get to go to a military base and kind of see what a regimen looks like.
“The fire department has this semi-militaristic program anyway, so it kind of jump-starts them and gets them ready for life in the fire service. We guide them, give them training, we tell them what the next step is. That’s really been enjoyable and is a great program. I would like to see those expanded and move into the future,” he said.
Crater was hired in 1999 by Cal Fire San Diego as a seasonal firefighter in De Luz. In 2001, he was hired as a permanent firefighter for the Riverside Unit in the Lake Elsinore Battalion. He also worked in Battalions 2 and 13 as a fire apparatus engineer.
In 2008, Crater was promoted to fire captain again in the Lake Elsinore Battalion and worked at Stations 11 and 61 and Truck 97. In 2017, Crater accepted a promotion to battalion chief working in the cities of Desert Hot Springs and Lake Elsinore.
Temecula city manager Aaron Adams said in a press release the decision to hire Crater came after much consideration.
“This position is key for us as an organization and as a community,” Adams said. “I am confident that Chief Crater’s leadership style and long history of experience within southwest Riverside County will be an asset to the city of Temecula.”
Crater said the services the department has in place for Temecula is already stellar, but there’s always room for improvement.
“Obviously (I want to) enhance the fire protection that we have. It’s great, but we’re always looking to strive for that next level,” he said. “I think we can get there. I think we have all the tools we need to succeed. Even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic, I think we’re holding our own and I’m optimistic. The future looks bright.”
He said he is excited to take on his new role and promises professionalism above all else.
“It has been a humbling experience, a great experience,” Crater said. “There are a lot of really great people here, from city staff to how they support the fire department and the citizens here. Our No. 1 priority is to serve the city, county and Cal Fire and bring the utmost professionalism.
“That’s our goal than anything short of that is not acceptable,” he said.
Crater and his family reside in southwest Riverside County.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.