Garden Grove City Manager Matt Fertal may have named a new fire chief, but the name doesn’t sound all that new.
Fire Chief David Bertka recently announced his retirement effective Nov. 1. His successor is Chief David Barlag, a 26-year veteran of the Department, who becomes Garden Grove’s 12th Fire Chief.
“We’d gotten used to people referring to us as ‘The Daves’ and calling us by our last names,” says Chief Barlag. “Guess this means we’re breaking up the act.”
“Chief Barlag has been a consistent leader, deeply committed to his service career. He’s earned the confidence of all Fire personnel, the organization, and the City Council, but most of all, the community,” says City Manager Matt Fertal.
Chief Barlag started his Garden Grove Fire Department career in 1986, serving as a firefighter/paramedic for eight years, later becoming Fire Captain, and then Training Officer/Emergency Services Coordinator. In 1999, he was promoted to Fire Battalion Chief/Paramedic Coordinator, followed by Operations Division Chief. In 2008, while serving as Administrative Fire Chief and Fire Marshal, he was ascended to Deputy Fire Chief, becoming the Department’s second-in-command.
In February 2008, when Chief Bertka became No. 11, Chief Barlag gracefully accepted defeat—for a second time.
“I had competed for Chief in 2003, and then again in 2008. I always felt like I was a few years behind Dave (Bertka). But, in the back of my mind, I knew my time would come,” says Chief Barlag.
“Right now, Dave (Barlag) is more prepared to take on this job than anyone else I know. He understands and lives for this Department and this community. The transition will be very easy,” says Bertka.
A member of the first group of Fire Academy graduates, now after nearly 32 years of fire service, four as Chief, the former Chief plans to dedicate most of his time to his two grandchildren.
“The City has been extremely open-minded and user-friendly for operating a Fire Department that serves such a significant number of residents,” says Bertka.
After such a long wait, Chief Barlag is in no hurry to make changes, except for one.
“Training has always been one of my strongest suits. Garden Grove has always done more with less, but with 11 current vacancies in the Department, covering duties is a big challenge, especially when it comes to training new firefighters. Currently, our captains are assigned that duty. Because response and training are priorities for protecting lives and property, it’s critical that we find ways to ramp up the training in the Department,” says Chief Barlag.
Married since 2009 to his second wife, Judy Lee, whom he met as a result of a trip to Korea, Chief Barlag has two daughters from his former marriage, and a 2-year-old grandson, Angelo. He holds a Master’s Degree in Emergency Services Administration and a Bachelor of Vocational Education Degree in Occupational Studies from California State University, Long Beach.
A second-generation firefighter, Chief Barlag lost his father to a line-of-duty death in 1983.