SDG&E Fire Coordinator Richard Veihl participates in the Wildland Fire Drill

SDG&E Fire Coordinators: Fighting Fire with Expertise and Enthusiasm

Amidst the diverse landscape of San Diego County, where the threat of wildfires looms, a unique team stands ready. These are the San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) Fire Coordinators, a group of seasoned professionals with a distinct mission: to protect communities and infrastructure. Their role goes beyond firefighting; they are partners in preparedness, working to keep employees, customers, and first responders safe through proactive fire prevention, incident coordination, and education.

Since the inception of the first fire coordinator role in 2004, the team has not only grown but also evolved. This evolution mirrors the dynamic landscape of fire risks within SDG&E's service territory. Today, the team is a collective of former firefighters, bringing a wealth of knowledge from local, state, and federal fire agencies. With a combined emergency management experience of over 160 years, their diverse backgrounds enable them to tackle the multifaceted challenges of fire management with insight and expertise.

Participants attending Wildland Fire Drill 2024

At the heart of their responsibilities is the 24/7/365 monitoring of emergency calls through strategic partnerships with regional emergency response agencies. Each year, the team diligently tracks approximately 2,100-2,600 dispatches, remaining vigilant for any incidents that could impact SDG&E's operations or the surrounding communities.

One hallmark of SDG&E's commitment to fire safety is its longstanding participation in the annual San Diego County Fire Chiefs Association Wildland Fire Drill, now in its 21st year. As the primary sponsor of the drill for over a decade, SDG&E plays a pivotal role in facilitating training opportunities for local first responders. The drill is a testament to the utility's dedication to collaboration and preparedness, fostering stronger ties between SDG&E and the broader emergency management community.

During the three-day drill, SDG&E's Fire Coordinators serve as instructors, drawing upon their extensive experience to educate more than 600 fire personnel and emergency responders on the unique hazards of utility equipment during emergencies. They emphasize the importance of efficient restoration plans, underscoring the critical role of partnership and communication in mitigating fire risks.

Participants attending Wildland Fire Drill 2024

“This is an important exercise for our community and regional agencies to work cooperatively, preparing for the upcoming wildfire season or any emergency,” said Michael Rottenberg, fire coordinator at SDG&E. “It’s also important for SDG&E to train alongside our first-responder partners so that when the real emergencies happen, we’re all ready to work together.

In addition to providing instructional support, SDG&E deploys troubleshooters for simulated wire-down events and enlists transmission experts to address technical intricacies.

Looking ahead, the fire coordinators aspire to deepen their connections with emergency responders and the broader community. Whether training internal and external personnel, contributing to energy storage safety initiatives, or advancing fuels management programs, the Fire Coordinators remain steadfast in their mission to serve and protect.

“At our core, this team has always served others in our past and current roles,” said Richard Veihl, fire science and program coordinator at SDG&E. “We can do that effectively when we work together across agency lines.”

As wildfire risk threatens the region, SDG&E's Fire Coordinators are safety guardians, working tirelessly to reinforce defenses, strengthen partnerships, and ensure a resilient future for communities and beyond.

Participants attending Wildland Fire Drill 2024