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Rio Hondo Fire Academy chief calls it a career

By Alex Dominguez

WHITTIER – Rio Hondo College Fire Academy Coordinator Tracy Rickman has announced his retirement after an over 23-year tenure with the school.

Rickman, 55, says that he “always wanted to be a firefighter as a kid.”

Self-described as a “type-A, go go go” individual, it was the “activity” of the job that drew him.

“It’s ‘every day is a new day,’” said Rickman. “You don’t know, you might have a structure fire, car fire, somebody might be in cardiac arrest. Everybody’s worst day is the day they call you, They call 911, and you’re there to help.”

He began his career in the United States Air Force in 1982 at the age of 18, going on to serve as a firefighter, captain, and training officer before being honorably discharged in 1990.

“I had a great time in the military actually,” said Rickman. “When I was in the Air Force, they gave me a choice to do three or four different jobs. Of course, firefighter was open, so I took it.”

Upon his departure from the service, Rickman came to California, where he was hired as training captain of the B2 division by Northrop Grumman. At the conclusion of his tenure there, he took roles as a fire inspector for the city of South Pasadena and an instructor in the fire technology program at Rio Hondo College.

It was in 2000 that he was given the opportunity to become the coordinator of the fire academy at Rio Hondo, which he has been doing ever since.

“Since then we’ve just grown,” said Rickman. “At one time we offered seven classes…this semester we’re offering 42 classes.”

Rickman says that the college has been very supportive of the program.

“When I started here, we had a trailer next door at Santa Fe Springs; that’s all we had at Rio Hondo Fire Academy…this whole six acres and everything you see here is all Rio Hondo Colleges…the support of the college is huge, because you need the dollars to make things happen.”

Now, after an over 38-year career, Rickman says that he is stepping away so that he and his wife of 28 years, Jori, can spend some quality family time with their kids and eight grandchildren.

“They’re scattered. I’ve got a son that lives in Texas, a daughter that lives in North Carolina, a daughter in Oregon, a son finishing his degree at the University of Syracuse in New York,” said Rickman. “My wife and I want to travel and be there for these grandkids.”

Though he will continue to teach online with California State University Los Angeles, Rickman plans to “be busy doing something else.”

“I could stay here another ten years; I love what I do, I’m surrounded by great people, I have great support from the college,” said Rickman. “However, in my life, with my children and my grandchildren, we want to be a part of their life.”

While the staff reaction has been a bit bitter sweet, Rickman says that he thinks his students “get it.”

“In the fire service, we’re very hierarchy driven,” said Rickman. “I think the students look at it as…they know we’ve got a great team here; when I leave someone else is going to come in. I’ve already got things lined up with my part-time faculty and part-time staff. It’s going to be a seamless transition.”

He says that his successor needs to have a vision.

“My opportunity was to grow [the program] …now, we’ve grown it to a point where we’ve become a victim of our own success. We can’t really grow much more; we’re limited to the six acres,” said Rickman.

“My vision has concluded… the next leader and the fire director that they hire would have to have a vision for future growth, because where are we gonna go? What are we gonna do to expand? What programs can we add that we don’t currently have…the person coming in is going to have their vision for the future for growth, because we are growing.”

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