Santa Barbara County Fire Public Information Officer Mike Eliason has retired after 11 years at the post. | Credit: Courtesy

Mike Eliason — the award-winning photojournalist and public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department who has spoiled Santa Barbarans rotten since 1985 with the startling quality of his images — retired last week after 11 years at the post. 

Since he was 17 years old, Eliason has had at least one ear glued at all times to the scanner, a cell phone — or even two cell phones — first as a photojournalist with the Santa Barbara News-Press and most recently with the County Fire Department. For the Fire Department, Eliason served as public education officer and information officer, where his obvious strength — aside from the photos he took — was his familiarity with what reporters needed, how they needed it, and when. Eliason knew how to speak in a language reporters understood. Given the serious damage confusion can cause in the midst of disasters, that ability proved invaluable. 

Mike Eliason (center) with County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig on his last day with the department. | Credit: Courtesy

Eliason left the News-Press when the newsroom of that paper imploded about 15 years ago and was hired by County Fire not long thereafter. One way or the other, Eliason reckoned, he’s covered every single fire to hit Santa Barbara since 1985. For 38 years, it’s been his job to know what was happening behind every siren call he heard. 

The work, he said, has been great, and the people he’s worked with “amazing.” Many of the firefighters Eliason trained with very early in his career — like Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor, two battalion chiefs, a fire captain, and an engineer — are all stepping down about now. 

Eliason said he hopes to spend some time traveling with his wife, Kathy; playing more golf; and perhaps serving on a board or two. “You’d like the opportunity to go out and enjoy life,” he said. “You know, I’d like to finish my beer once, without having to worry about ‘What’s that siren?’”


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