Michael Rottenberg

Michael Rottenberg: From Santee Fire Chief to SDG&E Fire Coordinator

Growing up, Michael Rottenberg loved camping and aspired to be a forest ranger. A high school counselor suggested that he applied to be a seasonal firefighter for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). He did, and that was the beginning of his 40-plus-year career in the fire service industry.

August 11th marked his 8th year with SDG&E as a fire coordinator, where he is part of a five-member fire coordination team that serves as liaisons to regional fire agencies and coordinate closely with them on emergency response. The team collectively has more than 120 years of experience in firefighting with local fire agencies before they started their careers with SDG&E.

Rottenberg remembers the exact date he started with CAL FIRE San Diego: August 15, 1977 is when he first became dedicated to the fire service and its mission of protection and stewardship.

After working three fire seasons in the Valley Center and Rincon stations with CAL FIRE’s Monte Vista Ranger Unit, Michael went on, in 1979, to work with the City of Santee Fire Department. He stayed there for 30 plus years and worked his way through the various ranks to ultimately retire as the fire chief.

As a fire coordinator at SDG&E, Michael conducts year-round gas and electric safety trainings designed specifically for firefighters, police officers and other first responders. The purpose of the training is to help emergency responders become aware of gas and electric hazards.

In a recent interview, Rottenberg discussed his immense pride in being part of SDG&E’s Fire Science and Climate Adaptation Team, a team that he considers to be a leader in the field. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What drew you to the firefighting field?

My introduction into the fire service came from a high school career counselor who suggested I apply to be a seasonal firefighter for the California Department of Forestry after I told her that I loved camping and was interested in being a forest ranger. I was hooked from my first week! Throughout the years my experience and passion for firefighting grew along with the communities that I served.

How did you make the decision to transition from your previous position to becoming a member of the Fire Science and Climate Adaptation Team?

For me the transition could not have been better timed. After 33 plus years, I had retired and after several months of relaxing and finishing long-delayed projects, I met the then Fire Coordination Manager, Hal Mortier who was looking for someone to fill in while Randy Lyle, who is now SDG&E’s Fire Program Manager, was assigned to the Sunrise Powerlink project. Fortunately for me by the time the Sunrise project was completed, and Randy returned from his assignment, the fire coordination program had grown enough to keep me on the team. 

How is this position the same or different from your previous positions?

I believe that this position is the same, because we serve people. Internally to the company and externally to first responders, other public groups, and the public at large. In many ways many of the people I serve now are the same as when I was a firefighter.

What does it mean to you to be a member of the Fire Science and Climate Adaptation Team?

Being a member of the team is proving to be a good match. The work-product of team members complements the others. Each member is clearly dedicated and enthusiastic about what they do.