DOWNEY - Lonald "Lonnie" Dean Croom, 26-year veteran Downey firefighter and deputy fire marshal for only a handful of days more, was one of three selected candidates who tested for the position of fire chief in late October last year.He was informed of the decision in his favor on Nov. 18, but it was not until Nov. 23 that the City Council formally voted its approval. Upon learning the good news, he was quoted as saying, "This is a dream come true." Croom takes over as fire chief on Monday from erstwhile chief Jeff Turner, who was coaxed from a golf-studded retirement and has been serving on an interim basis for two years. Born and raised in Downey, young (he is only 46) and exuding an aura of sculptured strength, Croom is a graduate of Downey High and holds a BS in occupational studies/vocational arts from Cal State Long Beach. He says he wanted from the beginning nothing else but to become a firefighter, but getting appointed as fire chief was totally unexpected. Croom started as a fire explorer, then early on showed his mettle, becoming a firefighter in 1984, and rising through the ranks of the Downey Fire Department, as a firefighter paramedic from 1988-1994, fire engineer/prevention inspector in 1994, and attaining the rank of fire captain in 1996. He has been serving as deputy fire marshal since 2008. His most memorable and proudest moments in his rise to top dog in the Downey Fire Department definitely include, he says, his leading a group of about 400 FEMA employees deployed to Mississippi in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in which he led in establishing an Incident Command System in the affected region. But he is especially proud of his roles over the years as fire prevention bureau inspector and investigator, emergency medical technician (EMT) program director for 10 years, fire explorer program coordinator for 16 years (during which he oversaw the 1997 California Fire Exploring Academy held in the city of Downey) and as training officer, instituting curriculum and training methods to provide better live fire and fire behavior instruction to recruits and veteran firefighters alike. Because of these, it wasn't hard for him to identify his forte as belonging to the training area. He points to his days in the Training Tower, teaching and training firefighters in the art and science of fire suppression, etc. He says training is indeed a hallowed daily routine at the department, where responses to emergencies and quick thinking are honed. The source of his strength, he says, in the training and leadership areas is his passion for helping people. This passion is difficult to conceal, he says, and expresses itself in various ways including daily exercise and otherwise maintaining physical fitness and mental alertness in order to be prepared for emergencies and making the right decisions. Moreover, he says, "Most in the profession were chosen for their character. It's a lifestyle for us, a commitment, not just a job." He has plans to attend the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, will attend the occasional fire chiefs' courses, and maybe go for his master's in public administration. Croom's family roots go back to the County of Limerick in Ireland, where one can find a Croom Castle. He says he doesn't know if a family connection exists. Croom thinks he is the first fire explorer to make it as fire chief in the 53-year history of the DFD. He also broke tradition as the first non-battalion chief to become fire chief. He resides in Huntington Beach.
********** Published: December 16, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 35