Our Team

Board of Directors

PAUL VAN LEER - President

Paul has been a Ranch and Farm manager for over 36 years. He has been both a farm bureau director and past president. He also spent years as a Gav-Pac committee member to help craft the Gaviota Coast Plan, and is an active member of the County Agriculture Advisory Committee. In his current position as the manager of Las Varas Ranch, he has had three major wildfires threaten his ranch in 2008, 2016, and 2017. He has always been proactive in protecting the ranch, its livestock, and crops, through building and maintaining fire breaks, staging a dozer, and has firefighting equipment at the ready during the season. He has managed and resided on the Las Varas Ranch on the Gaviota Coast for the last 21 years. Paul was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board in 2018 and President in 2021.

JOHN AHLMAN - VICE PRESIDENT

John is a retired City of Santa Barbara Battalion Chief. He was born and raised in Santa Barbara attending all local schools and began his firefighting career In 1965. After a season with the Los Padres National Forest Hotshot crew he was drafted for the Vietnam War. Upon his return he resumed his career with the U S Forest Service. Later, he worked for Montecito Fire Protection District and then moved on to the City of Santa Barbara Fire Department where he retired after thirty five years of service. John has been a member of the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council since 2010 and has served as one of its past President’s.

NIC ElMQUIST - SECRETARY
While attending UC Santa Barbara, Nic Elmquist began his career as a seasonal wildland firefighter for the Sequoia National Forest in the summer of 2000. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies he gained a permanent appointment with the Forest Service in 2002. He returned to the central coast in 2007 as a Captain for the Arroyo Grande Hotshots on the Los Padres National Forest. While with the Forest Service, Nic worked on many of the notable local fires and held positions in both the fire and ecosystem management programs. In 2018, Nic accepted his current position as a Wildland Fire Specialist for the Montecito Fire Department. His work entails developing partnerships with District residents and neighboring jurisdictions to mitigate wildfire hazards and reducing risk within our local communities. Nic is a Fire Behavior Analyst for California Incident Management Team 15 and assists with instruction at the National Advanced Fire and Resource Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Nic was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board as its Secretary in 2018.
KEVIN VARGA - TREASURER

Kevin grew up outside of Pittsburgh, PA. He joined the Marine Corps after high school and was stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA. During his five year enlistment, he served one tour in Afghanistan. Afterward, Kevin went to college at Colgate University in upstate NY. While there, he spent four years in the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department and Fountain Fire Company #1. He majored in geology and geography, which allowed him to study and do fieldwork in Ecuador, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and the Galapagos Islands. Upon graduation, Kevin worked as a wildland firefighter on an engine crew out of Eureka, NV. This experience helped him realize how much help the American West needed in terms of dealing with wildfire and drought. He decided his next big goal would be to attend graduate school. Before doing so, he spent time as a zero waste coordinator, handyman, brewery server, substitute teacher, and Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. After applying to a handful of schools across the west, Kevin was accepted by UCSB into the Geography Department to study wildfire weather and ecology. He currently works with Charles Jones and Leila Carvalho on projects that identify vulnerable wildfire areas and model wildfire spread. Kevin was selected as Treasurer for the Fire Safe Council in 2020.

TED ADAMS

Ted moved to the Painted Cave area from Coyote Road above Montecito not long after the 1964 Coyote Fire. Soon after the move he became involved in community administration as a Director of the Painted Cave Mutual Water Company. In 1977, Ted organized the Wildland Residents Association including the neighborhoods of the mountain communities of San Marcos Pass. In 1997, he became a director for the newly formed Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council and has remained involved ever since. Today, he continues to work promoting community cooperation and disaster preparedness through these organizations and a weekly radio program on AM1290 which he co-hosts on disaster preparedness. Ted has been a part of the Fire Safe Council since its conception in 1997 and has served as both President and Vice-President.

Selden Edner

Selden Edner was born in California but spent a good part of his early childhood in England.  After returning from England he finished school in Monterey and moved to Santa Barbara.  He graduated from UCSB with a history major in 1971, and four years later he graduated again, this time from Cal Poly SLO with a degree in horticulture.  Following a short career in agriculture running a large wholesale nursery, he switched direction and decided to remodel his own house.  This led to a career in construction and contracting, ultimately as owner and manager of Terra Firma Foundation Drilling.  Selden and his family have owned their home in Mission Canyon for over 49 years.  During that time they have evacuated their home due to fire four times.  Selden became active in the Mission Canyon Association about 10 years ago and served on its fire committee with Ray Smith.  He was elected to the board of the Mission Canyon Association 4 years ago. He is one of the organizers of the first recognized Firewise Groups in Mission Canyon and is a strong believer in community organizing to improve fire resilience.  He is proud to have an opportunity to participate on the board of the Fire Safe Council and to follow in the footsteps of Ray Smith.

ROB HAZARD

Chief Hazard began his fire service career in 1988 with the U.S. Forest Service working on the Los Padres Hotshot Crew. He was hired as a firefighter with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department in 1998, promoted to Engineer/Inspector in 2002, Fire Captain in 2006 and Battalion Chief/Deputy Fire Marshal in 2016. Chief Hazard was a lead academy instructor for Wildland Firefighting and a member of the SBCFD Wildland Steering Committee. He has represented SBCFD on multiple teams and committees including the USFS Region 5 California Incident Management Team 7 and is currently a member of the local Type 3 Incident Management Team (XSB IMT3). He also is a Board Member of the FIRESCOPE Predictive Services Specialist Group. Chief Hazard is a 5th generation Santa Barbara native. Chief Hazard currently holds the rank of Division Chief and is assigned as the County Fire Marshal. Chief Hazard was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board in 2014.

PHIL SEYMOUR

Phil Seymour is a retired attorney with 32 years of practice in environmental and land use law.  After graduating UCSB in 1974 and before graduating law school, Phil served for 10 years as a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, including five years on the Ojai Hotshots, one year on the Tanbark Helishot crew on the Angeles National Forest, and three years as the first crew boss for the Sundowner contract crew.  Phil has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council for four years, and served as the appointed SBCFSC representative on the Development Team for the San Marcos Pass/Eastern Goleta Valley Mountainous Area Community Wildfire Protection Plan.  He is also currently active with the Wildland Residents Association, the animal rescue organization Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter (BUNS), and with the Mountain Ember Team in his home community of Painted Cave.

JOAN HARTMANN

Joan Hartmann, Ph.D., J.D. has been serving as a Santa Barbara County supervisor representing the 3rd District since 2017. Before that, she served for three years as the Third District County planning commissioner. The 3rd District stretches from Isla Vista to Guadalupe, including the Gaviota Coast, Burton Mesa communities and the Santa Ynez Valley. Her policy priorities include transitioning to renewable energy; promoting community wellness through parks, trails, and bicycle infrastructure; and developing greater community resilience to withstand emergency conditions. Joan began her career in the academic world, serving as Director of the Public Policy Program at the Claremont Graduate School; Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Government at Oberlin College; and later as adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at USC. She has also worked for several federal government agencies including the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. EPA, Region 3. She helped found the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, a novel public-private partnership to restore coastal Southern California wetlands and watersheds. She spearheaded the Buellton Urban Growth Boundary initiative which requires a vote of the people before the City can expand its boundaries, the first such initiative in Santa Barbara County. She also advised the Goodland Coalition which successfully campaigned for a similar initiative in Goleta. Joan has lived in Santa Barbara County part-time since 1999 and full-time since 2004. She served for six years as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in foster care. She also served on the Wildling Museum’s Board of Directors, the Fund for Santa Barbara’s Grant Making Committee, and the Santa Barbara Foundation’s LEAF Advisory Committee. Supervisor Hartmann was elected to the Fire Safe Council Board in 2019.

Dan Fawcett

My name is Dan Fawcett and I am more than happy to have the opportunity to work for the Carpinteria/Summerland Fire Protection District as the Wildland Specialist since 2020.  For the previous fifteen years I was employed by the United States Forest Service, locally on the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara Ranger District.  I had the opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge in Wildland Firefighting through experience on Hotshot crews, Type-3 Engines, and Helicopters.  For the last four years of my USFS career I served as a Patrol focusing on local fire prevention activities. I have been married for sixteen years to my wife Shealeigh, a teacher for the Goleta Union School District. We have lived in the Santa Barbara area for 20+ years and we have two children, Colton and Ila, who are 14 and 12. I look forward to working with all the folks within the Fire District, adjoining agencies, and the Santa Barbara Fire Safe Council, to help our community be a safe and awesome place to be.

Victoria Cooper

Victoria Cooper, M.Ed, PhD- I have dedicated my 40 year career towards implementing health, safety and environmental programs and policies for facilities and communities.  I have served as a consultant to industrial and government entities in multiple sectors. For 15 years I directed the Environmental Technology Program at Wilbur Wright College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, where I also served as faculty.  In this capacity, sequences in hazardous materials management, emergency response preparedness, green building technology and urban agriculture became accredited offerings of the Environmental Tech Program. As adjunct faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate School of Business Administration I taught classes in Environmental Perspectives. Other teaching opportunities include developing and delivering training and information programs for hourly employees and executives to prepare them to address environmental and safety concerns. I served as Chair of the Chicago Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) for 15 years and also as Chair of the New Buffalo Township Fire Administrative Board for 5 years. After retiring in Santa Barbara from the Midwest, My passion for implementing emergency preparedness programs has continued. I have been part of developing the Maria Ygnacia Neighborhood Safety Association in the Via Regina neighborhood. With my background,  I believe I can contribute to making Santa Barbara County more fire safe and prepared! I am honored to be chosen to serve on the Board of Directors of Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council!

Mark vonTillow

Mark is a native Californian. He started his career in 1985 on the Tahoe N.F., Came to the LPF in 1987. He has worked on Engines, Hotshots, and Helicopters throughout his career.  Mark has been an IMT member for 18 years. He was the Incident Commander for California Team 3 for 4 years, RXB2 as well as many other ICS qualifications. Mark has extensive fire experience across the country as well as some all-hazard responses such as Hurricane Rita in Texas and the Space Shuttle Discovery recovery mission. He also commanded the Whittier, Thomas, and Soberanes Fires to name a few. Mark is also a member of the L- 580 Cadre (Leadership is Action). He received the Paul Gleason Lead by example award (Initiative and Innovation) in 2006 for the Family support branch of the Esperanza Incident. Mark served as a family liaison Daniel Hoover-Najara during the Esperanza incident. Most recently he served as a hospital/family Liaison for a burn victim on a Hotshot crew in 2015. Mark also has an extensive background in fuel mitigation work while he was with the U.S. Forest Service. Mark retired as the Division Chief for the Santa Barbara Ranger District where he served in the position for the last 8 years of his career with Forest Service. Mark currently serves as the Wildland Specialist for the Santa Barbara City Fire Department.

Scott Coffman

Scott Coffman is a retired Battalion Chief and currently teaches safety programs with Allan Hancock College as well as private industry consulting. Scott is a certified trainer in hazardous materials, first aid, and OSHA outreach training. Scott is the project manager for the Fire Safe Council – Gaviota Coast Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Scott is passionate about wildfire prevention and community safety. Scott enjoys surfing, kayaking, and hiking on the central coast.

MAX MORITZ

Max Mortiz, Ph.D, is an adjunct professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a statewide wildfire specialist within UC Cooperative Extension. Much of his research is focused on understanding the dynamics of fire regimes at relatively broad scales and applying this information to planning and management of fire-prone landscapes. He has used a number of different spatial approaches to quantitative analyses of fire history patterns, stemming from his early work on chaparral shrublands in the Santa Barbara region. Max was elected to the Santa Barbara Fire Safe Council Board in 2012.

Kim Pananides

Kim moved to Santa Barbara in 1975, fresh out of high school, in search of better weather than the extremes of humidity and cold on the East Coast; she has lived in the County ever since. Twenty years ago, after retiring from a career in banking at several locally owned institutions, she and her husband, Dean, settled in the semi-rural community of Jonata Springs Ranch, which is in North County just outside of Buellton. Having previously served as a JSR Board Member, she is now chairperson of the Fire Safety Committee for her homeowner’s association; she will lead JSR’s effort in pursuing FireWise Community designation. Incorporating the expert guidance offered by SBCFD and SBCFSC, Kim has expanded the requirements for her HOA’s wildfire safety preparations. 

During the height of the pandemic, Kim volunteered with GetUsPPE and VaccinateCA, organizations that were formed in response to the scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE) and vaccines respectively, with an emphasis on equitable distribution. Her volunteer work with these organizations was often assisted by members of the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contacts. The team Kim formed at GetUsPPE focused on assisting people in disaster areas with PPE donations, especially in CA areas that were affected by fires in 2020-21. She is now focusing on obtaining Climate Steward Certification through a program offered by UCSB and the Community Environmental Council.

Ever grateful for the assistance provided to her community by this amazing organization, Kim is pleased to become a committed partner with SBCFSC and looks forward to working with all the fine folks here who are devoted to making Santa Barbara County a safer and more fire-resilient place to live.

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