WATSONVILLE — Watsonville Fire Chief Pablo Barreto has accepted a position with the Salinas Fire Department, and will continue his position here through March 15.
He will begin his position as Salinas fire chief at the end of April.
“It’s a hard move for me,” he said. “I’ve been with Watsonville Fire Department for 22 years. I’m leaving a family I’ve grown up with in the fire service.”
Barreto has been with Watsonville Fire Department since 1997. He was promoted to captain in 2003 and to Division Fire Chief - Operations in January 2013. In July of that year he was named Division Fire Chief - Fire Marshal.
He was named interim chief in September 2014 after Mark Bisbee left, and that position became official six months later.
Barreto described his new employer as a “progressive” agency that has a good working relationship with the other city agencies.
According to Barreto, the Salinas Fire Department has five stations, about 100 employees and an annual budget of about $20 million.
Watsonville Fire Department by comparison has a $7.4 million budget.
He said the career move is a good opportunity for himself and his family, but said he plans on keeping his residence in Watsonville.
Under Barreto’s leadership, the department has bolstered its staffing and improved its equipment, including a new tiller truck currently being assembled. That is thanks largely to Measure G, the 2014 voter-approved half-cent sales tax created to fund the police and fire departments.
That tax sunsets in 2021, and Barreto has been part of efforts to bring it back to voters for re-approval.
“I’ve made a lot of good progress,” he said. “It’s been a honor. It’s been all because of our firefighters and how we work so well together, and I’ll be able to bring that to Salinas.”
It is not clear whether Watsonville City officials have begun the search for a new chief. City Manager Matt Huffaker did not return a call for comment as of press time.
Barreto will take over from Chief Jeff Johnson, at an annual salary of about $195,000, according to Salinas City Manager Ray Corpuz.
He was making $170,000 as Watsonville Fire Chief in 2017, according to the California State Controller.
“I’m so glad we found someone who both is so well qualified and has such deep local roots,” Corpuz said. “We look forward to Chief Barreto building on the strengths of our department and the vital services it provides to our community.”