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Mayor Chris Beutler has tapped a Clovis, California, fire chief to lead Lincoln Fire and Rescue.

Micheal Despain was chosen from three finalists, all from fire departments outside Nebraska.

If confirmed by the City Council, he'll start work in Lincoln July 18 at an annual salary of $140,000.

A firefighter for 31 years, the 49-year-old said he fell in love with the job as a volunteer firefighter for a rural agency when he was 18 and worked for the Tulare County (California) Sheriff's Department.

He spent the past 20 years in the fire departments in Clovis and nearby Fresno. He was deputy fire chief in Fresno from 2006-12, serving briefly as interim chief.

He returned to Clovis in 2012, transitioning from deputy chief to chief within a few months. Despain has degrees from Fresno Pacific University and National University in California.

In a news release, Beutler said he's impressed with Despain's "common sense, data-driven approach to the profession."

"While his career has been spent until now in California, he demonstrates the same kind of strong work ethic that we value in the Midwest," the mayor said.

Despain will succeed Chief John Huff, who retired in June. Interim Chief Tim Linke, who didn't apply for the top job, will return to his position as battalion chief.

The mayor has been looking to fill Huff's job since fall and reopened the search after a candidate who was offered the job declined.

At a public reception for the second batch of candidates earlier this month, Despain said he's not looking to slow down, although he could because he's worked long enough to retire comfortably.

His family visited Lincoln last week and loved the city, he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

"Within minutes of stepping off the plane, (we were) literally in awe of the community,” Despain said.

As fire chief here, he said, he'll take a critical look at how equitably resources are spread in the department and work for the most efficient response to improve outcomes.

His focus will be on improving the quality of emergency medical and fire service at the best cost to "the customer," aka the taxpayer, he said.

"I can’t say that I have the magic solution to make everything perfect," Despain said, but he plans to bring together fire administrators, the union, city officials and the public to move the department forward.

Now, he oversees 62 firefighters and a $13 million annual budget. Lincoln has about 300 firefighters and a budget of $32 million.

Lincoln Firefighters Union President Ron Trouba said members are hopeful Despain will bring the strong leadership needed to move the department forward.

Union members believe LFR needs to add a fire crew to keep response times low and to reduce the risk of burnout and injury on crews working more calls, he said.

"We’ve grown by more than 60,000 people since the last time they added one fire crew,” Trouba said.

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On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.



Riley Johnson reports on breaking news and public safety issues in Lincoln and southeast Nebraska.

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