Sixth Fire Chief In Four Years Departs From Victorville Municipal Fire Department

Victorville’s seeming inability to hang onto a fire chief in the aftermath of the 2019 resurrection of its municipal fire department has manifested once again with David Foster’s abrupt departure barely three months after he took on the assignment of leading the department.
The department instantaneously and seamlessly switched gears, such that Deputy Chief Bobby Clemmer for a week took command of the agency, which then double-clutched to reestablish William “Willie” Racowschi, who had served as interim chief between January and April, as the department’s acting chief.
Some are saying that the department, once considered a premier governmental organization in the High Desert, has been cursed by the move a decade-and-a-half ago to dissolve it, despite the department’s revival four years ago. At the time of its incorporation in 1962, the City of Victorville was indirectly dependent upon the county fire department, which provided supervision of the team of volunteer on-call firefighters that composed the newly-formed city’s fire department, which had existed pre-incorporation in one form or another since 1926. In 1976, the city recruited Rudy Cabriales, a one-time border patrol agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service who had transitioned to a career as a firefighter in his hometown of Calexico before rising to become the fire chief of Coachella in Riverside County, to relocate to Victorville and become fire chief of an operation morphing from being a county-supervised team of volunteers to a professional department. Cabriales built that organization into what some considered to be the premier fire department in the High Desert, and retired after 21 years as fire chief in 1997. In 2000, Cabriales was elected to the city council.
In 2004, the Hesperia City Council in a highly controversial move closed out its municipal fire department and contracted with the county fire department for fire safety service. Some four years later, in May 2008, despite Cabriales resistance, the Victorville City council by a 3-to-2 vote, mimicked Hesperia and dissolved the Victorville Fire Department in favor of contracting with the county fire protection division as of July 1, 2008.
A decade later, with the ten-year contract with the county for fire service about to expire, its city council sought to reassert Victorville, which at that point stood as the county’s fifth most populous municipality and its largest geographically, as a full-service city. Though the arrangement with the county was extended for eight months, in March 2019 the Victorville Fire Department was reestablished.
Initially in a holding pattern based on the way the county had run things, the city as the result of a nationwide search hired Greg Benson of Illinois, a firefighter with 35 years’ experience including as fire chief with agencies in the Midwest, to head of the Victorville Fire Department and fully implement its disengagement from the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District running the agency.
After 16 months, however, Benson abruptly resigned, at which point the city turned to John Becker, who had been the fire chief at the time the city voted to dissolve the department in 2008 in favor of the contract with the county. Becker stayed in place just six months, from August 2020 until February 2021. He was replaced by Jeff Armstrong.
Armstrong remained as chief just 15 months, announcing his departure in May 2022. The city tapped Battalion Chief Brian Fallon, who had formerly been with the Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department for 16 years, and had been hired by the Victorville Fired Department in September 2021, to move into the chief’s role.
The ambitious and upwardly mobile Fallon did not stay long, however. When he was offered the position of chief of the Lompoc City Fire Department, Fallon moved onto that position in January 2023.
The city choose Racowschi as Fallon’s replacement, at least temporarily.
In March, Victorville officials were gushing about the city’s good fortune in having convinced David Foster, who grew up in Burbank and became highly experienced in the area of fire science while serving as a top fire-suppression officer while serving in the United States Air Force, to become the department’s next fire chief. Once out of the military, Foster worked as a firefighter in Palmdale and then responded to an offer across the continent to go to work with the Dekalb County Fire Department, which serves a population of more than one million in the Atlanta metropolitan area. He acceded to the position of fire chief with Dekalb County. Meanwhile, he had attained a bachelor’s degree from Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska. In 2004, he was lured away from Dekalb County by the Village Fire Department in Texas within the greater Houston area. During his 19 years there, Foster was invited to become a fellow with the county’s most prestigious association of firefighting professionals, the executive committee of the National Fire Academy, where he obtained a master’s degree in fire science obtainable only by those who have achieved the post of fire chief.
The enthusiasm that Victorville City Manager Keith Metzler and others expressed upon the city’s hiring of Foster in March when he agreed to leave Texas has now been dashed. No one is talking about why he is leaving and whether he determined that Victorville simply did not live up to his standard of a good department or whether firefighters he was commanding and city officials are now convinced he does not make a good fit for Victorville.
Clemmer briefly filled in for him beginning on June 28 and Racowschi has been the official acting fire chief as of July 5.
-Mark Gutglueck

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