Lompoc Fire Capt. Jeff Edman's 31-year career at the department ended with a puff of smoke.
One day before he retired, Edman and a fire company responded to an incident where a person left plastic vacuum cleaner parts on top of a heater. The parts melted and sent smoke throughout the building.
The Dec. 29 incident was minor compared to his first structure fire, or when the Lompoc Valley Chamber Commerce caught fire in 1990. Edman was 20 years old at the time and a new, full-time recruit for the Lompoc Fire Department. Now 51, he recalled how the event changed him.
“It was eyes wide open for me kind of thing,” Edman said. “The reality was that I could have gotten hurt really easily.”
Edman’s last day was mostly unceremonious, with the exception of a dispatch send-off due to COVID-19. His colleagues called him a “true legend.”
“For us, as a department, losing somebody like Jeff with 31 years of experience is a significant gap of experience,” said interim Fire Chief Brian Federmann. “The fire service as a whole is experiencing significant turnover with its tenured members, but Lompoc Fire has had challenges with retention and being able to try to pass on all of his experience and wisdom that he’s gained to our newer employees.”
Edman’s three decades of experience include fighting numerous brush and structure fires as well as complex fires. He deployed to the Carr fire in 2018 to search for human remains, according to Federmann.
With Edman focusing his last three years on passing down his knowledge to junior firefighters, he has noticed many new firefighters enter the profession with mostly classroom training and four-year degrees.
“There needs to be a balance between experience and book smarts,” Edman said.
When Edman started as a Vandenberg Air Force Base Hotshot in 1988, wildfire work was seasonal and many of the firefighters had secondary jobs, with skills that could benefit local departments.
“Back in the day, there were guys who worked construction and that was their lead into the department,” Edman said. “It’s a big mixing pot and that’s what helps out the engine company. There’s not one person who knows everything.”
Edman recounted the type of hands-on training he participated in, including a training burn at an old church near the intersection of West Central Avenue and A Street.
But now, he said, firefighters aren't aren't allowed to hold those kind of training exercises due to Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District rules.
“It’s tough to re-create and simulate it like that at the [Public Safety Training Complex],” Edman said. “I was very fortunate early on in my career that we were able to do a lot of those things.”
Edman is now focused on retirement and will start off traveling in his RV, then will resume his exercise regiment. Edman is an athlete who has run the Boston Marathon three times, running last in 2017. His fastest time is 3 hours, 20 minutes and 43 seconds.
A third generation Lompocan, Edman's extended family also serve among the firefighting community, with a son-in-law working for the Lompoc Fire Department and a soon-to-be son-in-law serving with the San Luis Obispo Fire Department.
In the future, Edman hopes to see more awareness among Lompoc firefighters about how City Hall decisions impact their jobs.
"The political side really escaped me, and that was a big surprise when I got to the Fire Department," Edman explained.
He added, "I always thought it was a job that kept you physically fit and you got to be outside and active. Helping the public made you feel good, too, and it was always a win-win for me."
Photos: Hancock College fire academy cadets get water-saving training tool
Hancock College's Fire Academy received a new Pump Pod on Monday at the Public Safety Training Complex in Lompoc. The new piece of equipment will help train cadets while saving millions of gallons of water each year.
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