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Yurok Fire Chief Appointed to Homeland Security Advisory Committee

Chief Rod Mendes is the only Native American member of the California committee

Yurok Fire Department Chief Rod Mendes was selected to serve as the sole tribal representative on California’s critically important Homeland Security Advisory Committee.

Comprised of top-tier emergency managers from around the state and other parts of the US, the Homeland Security Committee advises California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci. The Committee’s primary role is to provide recommendations on how the state can better prepare for threats that pose the greatest risk to the State, its people, as well as its critical infrastructure and key resources.

“I am incredibly honored to be selected for this position,” Chief Mendes said. “It is a privilege to advocate for tribes on matters pertaining to homeland security and emergency management in the State of California. I will do my absolute best to be a strong voice on the Committee when it comes to protecting tribal populations, infrastructure and natural resources.”

Chief Mendes is one of the first nationally recognized Emergency Managers in Indian Country. He has more than 50 years of emergency management experience, including lengthy stints as a District Fire Management Officer for the Klamath National Forest and as the Chief of Fire and Office of Emergency Services for the Hoopa Valley Tribe. Throughout his career, the Command and General Staff-credentialled fire chief has managed massive emergency teams during some of the most complex natural disasters in US history. For example, in 2005, Chief Mendes directed hundreds of personnel who provided care to thousands of displaced people in a San Antonio, Texas evacuation facility following Hurricane Katrina. Throughout his career, the current Yurok Fire Chief has occupied similar roles on several other catastrophic events, accumulating into thousands of emergency responses. By any metric, Chief Mendes brings a tremendous amount of hard-earned knowledge and expertise to the Homeland Security Advisory Committee.

“The Committee couldn’t have selected a more qualified candidate than Yurok Fire Chief Rod Mendes,” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “He is going to do an excellent job of representing California’s 109 federally recognized Tribes.”

There are more Tribes in California than any other state in the US. Nearly one million Native Americans reside within its borders. With a $3 trillion economy, California is also the richest state in the nation and is home to many critical resources. The California Homeland Security Division is tasked with safeguarding the state’s immense financial and natural wealth against terrorism and other largescale disasters. That is why the state agency is intimately involved in a particularly broad set of issues, which include: cyberterrorism, food security, climate change, communications, medical capacity-building, community preparedness, wildfire prevention, data collection and distribution, as well as multi-jurisdictional/inter-jurisdictional all-hazards incident planning, response, and recovery. The Homeland Security Advisory Committee provides recommendations on all of these topics.

Homeland Security Committee members are selected via a competitive process and include many of the most senior emergency managers across the State. Some of its members include: the FEMA Region IX Director, the President of the California League of Cities, President of the Sheriffs Association as well as representatives from the state and federal departments of justice.

In addition to serving on the state Advisory Committee, Chief Mendes is rapidly expanding the capacity of the Yurok Fire Department. Under Mendes’s leadership, the Department became a chartered entity, which puts YFD on equal footing with all major fire organizations and opens up new funding opportunities. Members of the Yurok Fire crew recently completed in-depth trainings in cultural burning, first responder medical and a wildfire saw operation. To help the local community weather one of the worst droughts on record, the Department is currently taking actions to make the Yurok Reservation more resilient to wildfire. For example, the YFD leadership produced a reservation-wide fire risk assessment and is creating defensible spaces around elders’ homes. Facing what is expected to be a terrible fire season, the Department is preeminently prepared to protect tribal lives, homes and resources this summer.

Chief Mendes was confirmed for his appointment and participated in his first Homeland Security Advisory Committee meeting on May 27th, 2021.

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