Keith E. Klinger Retires as Chief Of Los Angeles County Fire Dept.
Keith E. Klinger, chief of the Los Angeles County Fire Department for nearly 16 years, has retired as a result of the advice of his doctors. His retirement announcement on April came as a surprise to County officials.
Klinger became chief of the department July 14, after Chief Cecil R. Gehr was killed in a collision while responding to a brush fire. Under Klinger’s leadership, the department doubled its manpower to 2,500 and increased the number of stations from 80 to 113, with 10 more under construction.
Klinger constantly pushed for more research by the fire service—both for new equipment and tactics. He committed L.A. County to leadership in research and participation in the development of lightweight pumps, high expansion foam in local fire fighting, a 110-volt alternator for fire apparatus, closed-circuit television for training and field operations, and lightweight fire pumpers designed for Southern California’s narrow mountain roads. He also was responsible for putting resuscitators on every engine company.
Klinger has been an enthusiastic advocate of the use of aircraft in fire fighting since he had the department participate in Operation Fire Stop in 1954. Since then, the department has used both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft extensively. The department now has three helicopters, including a 10-man one. Tactics for helicopter structural fire fighting also have been developed. Klinger followed in the steps of his father, retired Assistant Chief W. B. Klinger, when he became a fireman in the county’s Santa Fe Springs station in 1934.
During his tenure as chief, he became a leader of the fire service and brought a meaningful public relations program into being with the press and broadcast media and government leaders in Southern California.
The L.A. County Fire Department serves 32 incorporated cities, as well as unincorporated and watershed areas. Klinger actually is chief engineer of the County Fire Protection Districts and the County’s chief forester and fire warden.
In a rare tribute to a fire executive, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors named Klinger fire chief emeritus and also named the departments East Los Angeles administrative complex Klinger Center in his honor.
The Greater Los Angeles Press Club honored Klinger at its Headliner of the Year Dinner May 2 by giving him a gold lifetime membership card in the club he always supported. Members of the working press honored him May 9 at an informal get-together at the Press Club.
Klinger has commanded some of the largest fire fighting forces assembled in the West to portect inhabited areas. His most memorable command was the 1958 Malibu Fire.
He has been Region I coordinator for the California Disaster Office and a member of Governor Reagan’s Fire Advisory Board. He is a director of the IAFC and a member of various fire service organizations.