In an interview with the Westside Express, the new chief of the Los Banos Fire Department, Paul Tualla, talked about his own past and the future of the department.

Tualla decided to become a firefighter right after high school in 1992, when a friend of his recommended he take up a paid volunteer position in the French Camp McKinley Fire Department, just south of Stockton in San Joaquin County.

He has spent the 30 years since in various first responder jobs, including  a firefighter, paramedic and policeman.

Tualla started  in French Camp as a reserve firefighter, where his training and career commenced. During his time as a reserve firefighter, he attended paramedic school in 1995 and joined the Montezuma Fire District as a full-time firefighter and paramedic the year after.

In 1998 he enrolled in the Police Academy and shortly after became a deputy in Tuolumne County. Five years later he returned to Montezuma Fire as a captain. In 2009, he was promoted to fire chief in French Camp, where he served until 2016 when he became a police sergeant in Stockton for three years.

From 2019 to early 2022, he worked  as Investigator of fire and arson cases at the Sacramento Metro Fire District, as well as a part-time fire chief of the Montezuma Fire District in the Stockton area.

Tualla  decided to apply for the position of Los Banos Fired Chief after inquiring about recruitment. After thorough interviews from department heads and city council members, he was selected as fire chief.

He took over the fire chief position at the Los Banos Fire Department just a few weeks ago and has set forth an initiative: “We’re trying to navigate how our program is going to look,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.

“We have to evaluate how we’re conducting business,” Tualla added. “As the city has been growing, we need to grow our fire department and implement more programs and staff to handle the increased workload.”

Leading a department of twenty employees, Tualla emphasized that vacancies at the engineer and captain position need to be filled. He is leaving the assistant chief position unfilled in favor of restructuring the job into more than one battalion chief position, which would allow for more span of control and division of duties.

Each battalion chief, Tualla explained, would be responsible for setting up a program for training, fire prevention or operations. Volunteers and veteran employees, he said, are gladly stepping up in support roles in spite of the vacancies.

Volunteer firefighters will continue to be a part of the department, Tualla said, but he cited “a decline in volunteer staff due to the decrease of persons wanting to volunteer and the increased requirements needed for training.”

A young volunteer today, he added “would have to have the same experience as a full-time firefighter,” Tualla added, comparing the heightened level of entry to his early days in the department. A generational shift in the time since then has also been a hurdle for getting volunteers.

“We have good folks here,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting things going.” In his plan for getting things going, Tualla is currently looking into grant funding and more training for the department.

He’s also communicating with the local Emergency Medical Service to collaborate further with the department, as most of their calls involve EMS.

Jonathan Simione