After 32 years of dedicating his life to helping protect others, Fire Chief Ken Nakaten will be retiring. His last day with the department will be April 18.
After 32 years of dedicating his life to helping protect others, Fire Chief Ken Nakaten will be retiring.
His last day with the department will be April 18.
Not only has he worked more than 30 years in public safety, but he also worked all of those years with the city of El Dorado.
"When I first came to El Dorado I was just looking for someone to hire me," he said.
He had only been in El Dorado for two weeks when he applied with the city. Being from a military family, he had wanted to be a police officer.
"I had never heard of a Department of Public Safety before," Nakaten said.
At the time that is what El Dorado had, made up of a combination of a police force and fire fighters.
"I ended up on the law enforcement side on the patrol side," he said.
He worked as a patrol officer for six years, but said that didn't really meet his expectations for the career he wanted for himself.
"I had some exposure to the firefighters," he said. "It kind of got me interested."
He was intrigued by the methods of fighting a fire, saying there is a certain science to it.
"It was fascinating to me," he said, "the science of firefighting. The more I did it, the more I grew to love it. That is true for most firefighters. Once they get it in their blood that is all they want to do."
In 1987 he transferred to the fire side of the department, a move that would turn out to be the right decision for Nakaten.
"I did what I tell new hires to do now, keep their eyes open and mouth shut," he said. "I learned a lot and I worked with a lot of experienced firefighters."
In 1995 when the Department of Public Safety was disbanded, Nakaten knew he wanted to stay on the fire side.
He was promoted to captain and the split allowed them to start running the fire department the way one should be run, he said.
"We started getting back to the fire service roots," he said. "We tried to make the fire department more professional."
Eight years ago Nakaten was promoted to chief.
Now, after 30 years, Nakaten said a lot has changed in fire departments, a lot having to do with firefighter safety.
He said that is something he continues to promote heavily. There is more awareness of firefighters' overall health.
Another change is 32 years ago there was not a certification process.
"I think it's made the service much more professional and allows them (firefighters) to branch out and specialize in areas," he said of the certifications.
There also has been new technology in the department over the years, including the thermal imaging camera, one of the most important tools they carry now.
"Even today, we still lose 100 firefighters average across the country," Nakaten said. "It shouldn't be that high even. Fortunately, we've never had a serious accident with an apparatus. It is all about keeping firefighters healthy.
Nakaten has seen a lot of accomplishments over the years, with the big one of course being the new fire sub-station.
"Previous chiefs had expressed a need for a sub-station," he said.
That station opened late last year.
"It was kind of a sense of relief we had finally accomplished something that had been sought by so many people for so long," he said. "It's a very nice facility."
Other improvements include increasing staffing through federal grants, something on which they continue to work.
"We have made some huge strides in upgrading equipment through careful planning and continue to do that," he continued.
Those changes benefited the city in better protection and an increase in the city's ISO rating, from a Class 5 to Class 3, which can affect people's insurance rates.
"That's something a lot of communities try to achieve and few are successful," Nakaten said.
Other major accomplishments include improvements in the water distribution system and improvements in dispatch.
"I feel good about a lot of these things that were put in motion long ago, so I don't claim credit," Nakaten said. "Administration sees the need and recognizes it."
As for major calls over the years, Nakaten said any of the downtown structure fires stick with a person a long time.
"We do what we can with what we've got and try to make sure everyone goes home safe," he said. "It never makes you feel good when you lose one (a structure).
"I've been on hundreds of house fires and commercial fires and they're all different."
Nakaten has found the job rewarding, and is proud they have not had a firefighter seriously injured in a fire. He said his greatest fear was of losing a firefighter.
"It's been a very interesting 32 years," Nakaten said. "I've enjoyed my career. That's all you can hope for when you go into a profession."
He said the city was open and accepting and welcomed him into the department.
"My hope is I've been able to give something back to the city as well," he said. "It is a rewarding and interesting occupation."
Despite being ready to retire, Nakaten will miss the job.
"The thing I will miss is the adrenaline rush and excitement of having a good fire and the challenges it presents to see if we can beat the fire," he said. "We're successful more often than not."
He also will miss the people he has worked with over the years and their camaraderie.
"You have a connection with other firefighters you can't get anywhere else," he said.
He won't miss getting the calls at 4 a.m. though.
He said he doesn't have any real plans for retirement.
"If something sounds interesting I may try it," he said.
He does have plans for a little traveling and those things he enjoys but didn't have enough time to do.
"I don't plan on being bored by any means," Nakaten said.