County fire chiefs’ deputy chiefs retire, including the first woman to hold the post

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Two of the three deputy chiefs of the Ventura County Fire Department are retiring, including the first woman in the agency’s history to hold that rank.

The county’s largest fire agency announced the departures in a statement Friday. Deputy Chiefs Kelly White and John McNeil have each worked in the department for over 30 years.

Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said in a statement that the couple have provided consistent leadership as the department expands its firefighting capabilities, adapts to changes in wildfire behavior, resists the global pandemic and adapted to the changing needs of the community.

“We are all better off with their service, and I wish them well in everything that follows,” said Lorenzen.

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White, a resident of Camarillo, is the highest ranked woman in the department’s over 90 years. White began working there in 1989 and rose through the ranks from captain and battalion commander to deputy commander in 2019. She oversees the department’s administrative services office. His responsibilities included human resources, recruitment, training and the fire chaplain program.

White’s “greatest satisfaction” in her job stemmed from helping firefighters overcome job challenges and achieve success. She has promoted peer support and cancer prevention education.

Ventura County Deputy Fire Chief John McNeil is retiring from the agency.  He has been with the department since 1988 and his last day was scheduled to be July 25, 2021.

“I don’t see things the way I do. I am an advocate for our people, ”White said in a statement. “Sometimes it forced me to be behind the lines. For three years, he has been at the forefront.

His last day was scheduled for mid-August.

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Like White, McNeil reached the rank of Deputy Chief in 2019. He oversees emergency services and the operations office. The Ojai resident was a seasonal wildland firefighter for the department before officially joining the team in 1988 after graduating from the Fire Academy.

His duties included overseeing the fire stations and dispatch center. McNeil has experience in urban search and rescue, wildland firefighting, and human resources, all of which he gained in Ventura County.

“When you pursue this career, most people gain experience with other agencies,” McNeil said in a statement. “I got all my experience from this agency. That’s what I’m most proud of.”

He added that he always wanted to work with the Ventura County Department.

Two veteran firefighters will occupy the positions of deputy chief: John Spykerman and Scott Quirarte. They received their new badges at a recent ceremony at the agency’s headquarters in Camarillo.

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Prior to the promotion, Spykerman was a division chief overseeing southeast Ventura County, including Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley. Spykerman joined the department in 1989 after graduating from the Fire Academy. In 2006, Spykerman was named agency employee of the year.

Quirarte, promoted to battalion commander, started with the department in 1988. He was a specialist fire investigator and captain of an engine company that won the department’s company of the year award in 2012.

The personnel changes caused a certain mixing of beats for the three deputy chiefs. Deputy Chief Chad Cook will transition from support services to chief of emergency services and operations. Spykerman will oversee Cook’s old rhythm, which includes department provision, equipment maintenance and IT services. Quirarte was to take over White’s duties in the administrative services office.

Megan Diskin is a court and breaking news reporter with The Star. Contact her at [email protected] or 805-437-0258.


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