After six years at the helm of the Alameda County Fire Department (ACFD), Fire Chief David Rocha is ticking down his final days with the agency.
“When I informed the board in October that I planned on retiring, I certainly didn’t expect the transition to be impacted by a pandemic or all of the social-justice issues going on right now,” Rocha said.
In retirement, Rocha plans on enjoying time with his family, while keeping his eye out for future opportunities.
“Right now, I’m planning on taking a break for a little bit of time,” he said.
When Rocha informed the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and the county administrator of his decision, he was asked to remain in his role until his successor was identified. Now that a new chief has been named, Rocha’s last day with the ACFD will be Aug. 15. The board recently announced that Willie McDonald will take over as fire chief two days later. McDonald joins ACFD from Las Vegas Fire and Rescue, where he has served as fire chief for the last seven years.
“It’s an honor to have been selected, and I’m really looking forward to being a part of an organization with such high regard throughout the region and is well-known for serving their residents and their community,” he said. “I’m really excited about that. I’m really looking forward to cultivating greater relationships with our contract cities that we serve. We want to make sure that they’re feeling like we’re providing great service and that we’re meeting their interests.”
Rocha, a Livermore resident, grew up in Alameda County and attended San Lorenzo High School. Though he considered several different career options, he opted to enter the family business.
“My dad was a firefighter as well,” he explained. “I was following in his footsteps. That obviously gives someone insight into what the fire department is about.”
Rocha was hired as a firefighter by the San Leandro Fire Department in 1987 after attending Chabot College and a stint on an ambulance crew. In 1995, San Leandro contracted with ACFD – which had just been formed two years earlier – to provide fire and emergency services, and Rocha made the transition to the county agency where he’s been ever since.
In addition to his duties as fire chief, Rocha played an active role on the regional and state levels with regard to emergency management. He was integral in the ACFD consolidation efforts that improved the efficiency of regional fire services. He served as California Office of Emergency Services Region II fire and rescue coordinator. Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Rocha to the State Board of Fire Services; he was named California Fire Chief of the Year in 2019.
“When I started in fire service, I never envisioned being the fire chief, or being the fire chief of a department this size,” Rocha said. “I also never envisioned going to fires, not only throughout the state, but being able to go out of state for hurricanes and other unfortunate events as part of our incident management team. For us they’re interesting because we go and we learn. When we have incidents here, we’re better prepared to deal with them.”
Rocha earned a solid reputation with the chiefs of neighboring fire agencies during his tenure with the ACFPD, including Fire Chief Paige Meyer from the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District.
“Chief Rocha has brought an incredible set of skills and qualifications to Alameda County Fire Department and was focused on ensuring that his citizens received the highest levels of EMS and fire services,” Meyer said. “We were both appointed fire chief around the same time and worked closely and cooperatively over the years for the betterment of our neighboring residents and our firefighters. I wish him and his family all the best in his retirement.”
According to Rocha, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be among the principal challenges facing McDonald and the ACFD into the foreseeable future. In addition to keeping his workforce healthy, Rocha said that the fiscal outlook will require particular attention as he expects sales tax revenue to diminish as a result of the shelter-in-place orders in effect since mid-March.
“The revenue that normally comes to the cities, a large part of it comes from sales tax,” Rocha said. “So that will impact the department for the next few years by all indications. That’s something very serious. Almost 50% of the Alameda County Fire Department is the contracts that we hold with our cities. If the city’s revenue is impacted, that impacts our ability to provide service and their ability to pay us to provide that service.”
As Rocha prepares to move on to his next endeavors, he was quick to express appreciation for the time he spent in the fire service.
“It was an honor and a privilege when the board appointed me to be fire chief,” Rocha said. “I appreciate all the opportunities that the county has given me and the City of San Leandro before that, and the ability to work with such great people over the years in the Alameda County Fire Department. All of our firefighters have just been a pleasure to work with.”