KINGMAN - After 15 years of a nomadic existence in the fire service and a handful of aborted attempts at retirement, Len DeJoria has discovered his dream job.
"I truly have found my home," said DeJoria, the new fire marshal at the Kingman Fire Department. "I truly enjoy the city and I enjoy the leadership at this department."
DeJoria, 58, most recently served as chief of the Mariposa County Fire Department - the Gateway to Yosemite National Park in California.
This fact begs the question, why would you want to leave one of the most beautiful spots on the planet? It turns out, DeJoria didn't leave as much as he was pushed out by the fact that California is "going through changes," said DeJoria. "The fire service suffered because of that and they made significant structural changes in the service, so I took a shot at retirement and soon got bored." DeJoria said he saw the KFD job posting and thought he would be a good fit. He said the process of applying with the department was the most difficult he ever went through.
That includes the massive Clark County Fire Department in Las Vegas, where he started his career in 2001, after a first career in the paramedical field as a cardiac therapist for injured Nevada workers.
DeJoria stayed in Clark County, and near Henderson, the city in which he was raised, when he took employment with the Mesquite, Nev., fire department where he began the first fire prevention bureau in the state.
At the time, Mesquite was the fastest growing small city in the U.S. From Mesquite, DeJoria headed north to Alaska, where he was the assistant chief and fire marshal at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
"That was a great place," he said. "Alaska is an amazing state to work and play."
He also worked for the Prescott Fire Department and "mourned with them" when 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed in the summer of 2013 battling the Yarnell Hill Fire.
Another draw for DeJoria was logistics. His son-in-law is a captain with the North Las Vegas Fire Department. He and his wife, Dana, have a merged family consisting of five daughters - an attorney, a veterinarian, two teachers and a cosmetologist.
"I can be there for a visit in about an hour and 20 minutes, door to door," he said.
Here in Kingman, DeJoria might carry the title of fire marshal, but Chief Jake Rhoades demands his leadership staff wear more than one hat. With that in mind, DeJoria overseas code compliance, public education, hydrant maintenance and fire investigations.
"The call volume here is a little lighter than what I'm used to, but any fire is significant," he said. As an investigator, DeJoria is tasked with determining the cause and origin of a fire and whether it was accidental, incendiary, meaning intentional, or an act of nature, such as a lightning strike.
He is a recognized member of the National Association of Fire Investigators and he has the skills to determine what caused a fire and then develop a hypotheses to prove it.
"Sometimes there isn't enough evidence, like in a total burn, but if I ever go to court I need to be able to prove my hypothesis to the court," he said.
DeJoria had high praise for Assistant Fire Chief Keith Eaton, who formerly handled the department's public education program before the restructuring, which is designed to reduce fire risk. "Keith did an amazing job," he said. Now he wants to help the department reach a new level.
"Public education has to hit all populations. We're really good with the kids and teaching people how to use fire extinguishers, but statistically, the young and the old are most at risk."
He said there is age-appropriate curriculum available to reach older people. "It's not just stop, drop and roll and it's not just for children," he said. "Fire prevention needs to be learned about our whole life."
That includes the firefighters who risk their lives.
As fire marshal, the task falls on DeJoria to inspect businesses in Kingman to ensure they are up-to-date on fire safety protocols, but he also looks over buildings for any threats firefighters might encounter if they ever had to enter a burning building.
"The more I can teach staff what the hazards are, the quicker we can get into the building. It could be a Co2 [carbon dioxide] unit in a restaurant used for beverages."
Carbon dioxide, he said, is an asphyxiant and an inert gas and both present real hazards. The machines have been known to malfunction and explode.
DeJoria said Rhoades, who was hired last year to replace longtime chief Chuck Osterman, is clearly a professional who has developed sound structure at the KFD.
"I just want to participate in the effort to bring the department to the next level," he said.