CITY HALL — After a nationwide search that produced 20 finalists, City Manager Rod Gould has selected Manhattan Beach Fire Chief Scott Ferguson to lead the Santa Monica Fire Department, city officials said Monday.

As Santa Monica’s Fire Chief Ferguson, 48, will earn a salary of $198,168 and oversee a department that boasts a budget of $28.4 million annually with 128 employees. He succeeds Jim Hone, a 30-year veteran of the SMFD who retired earlier this month.

Ferguson and his wife Maria will be introduced to the public by Gould at the March 9 City Council meeting. He is expected to take the helm on March 29.

“Chief Scott Ferguson is a fast rising star in the fire profession,” Gould said. “His references and all who interviewed him are most impressed with his skill, energy, leadership and integrity. His passion is training to ensure a solid foundation in fire tactics while employing innovation, collaboration and accountability in the departments he has managed. Scott will be the right person to lead the department.”

During his tenure as fire chief in Manhattan Beach, Ferguson completed a strategic plan for the department, refined professional development for its members and forged relationships with regional stakeholders in emergency response and preparedness.

Before becoming fire chief of Manhattan Beach, Ferguson was a chief officer of two growing agencies in Peoria, Ariz. and Vancouver, Wash. As a fire officer, his work was wide ranging from building fire stations, implementing succession planning and fire service best practices. He served in Peoria from 2002 to 2007 and in Vancouver from 1988 to 2002.

“The experience I’ve gained throughout my career has prepared me for this new challenge,” said Ferguson, who likes the idea of running a larger department in a community that expects public safety officials to be engaged. “The Santa Monica Fire Department serves a dream community. I look forward to developing lasting partnerships to build on the strong foundation laid by Chief Hone so that together we can hold the community’s pride and resources well in hand.”

Ferguson started his fire service career in 1982 as a part-time fire fighter in Federal Way, Wash. and began serving full-time with the Richland Fire Department in 1984. He then moved back to his hometown in Vancouver, where he served from 1988 to 2001, progressing through the ranks until he was appointed chief of training.

Fighting fires is in his blood. Ferguson’s father was a fire chief and his brother is a fire fighter. The once aspiring advertising executive said he chose fire fighting because of the excitement and challenges faced daily.

“I just love how active it is, how involved the community can be,” he said. “Early on my father gave me some good advice, to prepare myself to move up.”

Ferguson supplemented his fire service training with lessons in business and management, eventually receiving a master’s degree in management from Wayland Baptist University in Phoenix. In his spare time he helps high school and college students prepare for job interviews and was former president of the Peoria Rotary Club.

“I like to have a good, healthy integration of strategic plans, business plans and career development throughout the department because I think those are important aspects to prepare our fire fighters for the future and give them the tools to be successful,” he said. “I am also heavily involved in training. Training is one of those arms that produces great results. Morale goes up, confidence goes up and we end up providing a better product for the community.”

Ferguson, who enjoys riding his motorcycle up the coast with his wife, taking hikes and playing softball, said he plans to spend the first few weeks getting to know his fire fighters and how the department operates. He has already spoken with Hone and has visited the city several times over the last few weeks. His wife will be busy looking for a place to live in town and perhaps find full-time employment, one of the reasons why Ferguson decided to look elsewhere for work.

“Manhattan Beach has been great, the fire fighters, those in the city and the community have all welcomed us, but after two years my wife has yet to find a job,” he said. “She gave up her career when we came out here and it’s been difficult since. We’re hoping that Santa Monica will offer more diversity and more opportunities. It really was a family decision that wasn’t easy because Manhattan Beach has treated us so well.”

Manhattan Beach Mayor Mitch Ward said Ferguson has performed well, but he expressed disappointment that Ferguson was leaving after only two years on the job.

“We realize this is a step up for him, but we really wish he would have stayed her a little bit longer,” Ward said. “We were pleased with his work … . Our men and women have a very calm demeanor, very professional and Scott stepped right in and there was no disruption. He was able to recognize our strengths and make recommendations in areas he felt needed improvement.”

Ferguson said he would like to retire in Santa Monica, and perhaps pick up surfing, something he said he was going to do when he moved to Manhattan Beach but has yet to get wet.

“I look forward to getting my hands dirty, meet the fire fighters and the command staff and find out what their needs are,” Ferguson said. “I want them to know that they have a say in the future of this organization and I hope they are as excited as I am.”

Ferguson knows he will face some financial challenges given the current state of the economy and city coffers, and there is considerable concern about the pace of development and what impact it will have on public safety and the ability to respond to emergencies. Ferguson said in Vancouver the population grew exponentially, adding more than 25,000 people in a few years. During that time Ferguson helped build four new fire stations and hired additional fire fighters.

“You need to make sure that people are prepared for future leadership roles,” he said. “Fire fighters are the key. They are the ones who make a difference. I’m just a conductor. They are the players and I respect that. They will have a say in where we are going.”

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