Perimeter Solutions is celebrating the 60th anniversary of PHOS-CHEK® long-term fire retardant, which was first approved by the US Forest Service in 1963. PHOS-CHEK has protected thousands of properties from destruction and saved countless lives in the decades since it was introduced. Its success was made possible by individuals who left their mark on the fire safety industry by contributing to its innovation, promoting its benefits and teaching others how to use it effectively to prevent the spread of wildfires. Perimeter Solutions is honoring some of these individuals by identifying them as Heroes of PHOS-CHEK.
Our newest Hero, Ron Raley, has been fighting wildfires almost as long as PHOS-CHEK, starting out with the US Forest Service in 1969. Recently retired, Ron takes a look back at the highlights of his time with the Forest Service, and then his second career as Agency Liaison for Perimeter Solutions.
Ron Raley: A Successful Career Built on Forming Life-long Bonds
I have lived my entire life in California. I was born in Long Beach and spent my early days in the LA Basin. When I was seven, the family moved to the small farming town of Santa Maria located along the coast between Santa Barbara and San Louis Obispo. This is where I developed a strong affinity for the woods, as the Los Padres National Forest (LPNF) was close by. All my friends and relatives hunted, and we enjoyed frequent excursions to the Forest and the surrounding farmlands hunting squirrels, dove, quail and blacktail deer.
When I was 16, I bought a brand new 1966 Chevelle SS Malibu. I remember the summer of 1966 like it was yesterday because of the famous Wellman Fire on the LPNF. The fire was started by an airplane crash in the San Rafael Wilderness Area, a place I came to know well when I became a Fire Prevention Technician (FPT) for that area. Smoke and ash billowed out of the wilderness, and it seems like it all landed right on my car. Visibility was less than ¼ mile. It was only later in my career that I realized that the Redding Smokejumpers had made their very first jump ever on the LPNF on this fire.
Fast forward to soon after my 19th birthday and I received a call from the District Clerk on the Santa Maria Ranger District. Kathy Gable (who later married Ron Hooper, the CEO of Neptune Aviation) offered me a job with the USFS. I began my USFS career on April 1, 1969, wading across the Manzana River working very near where that plane had crashed. In fact, I was given the responsibility for packing out the remainder of the crash debris on our livestock.
I was hooked. During these early days, I became accustomed to this militarist organization and thought about how to carve out a meaningful career. This led to my enrollment in Humboldt State University and attaining a BS in Forestry. All my bosses gave me the time off I needed to get this degree. I fought fire in the summer and went to college in the winter.
My fire career took me to small towns up and down California with a brief stint in McCall, Idaho. I was so fortunate to have moved through many of the normal career positions in Fire Suppression: Engine Crewman, Apparatus Engineer, Helitack Captain, Division Chief, Forest Chief, Regional Assistant Director then finally Deputy Director of Fire & Aviation Management.
One of the highlights of my career was my 18 years on Incident Management Teams. In addition to becoming a National Incident Commander, my time in aviation as a Fixed Wing Base Manager, Helibase Manager, Air Operations Branch Director, Air Attack Supervisor and Helicopter Coordinator has helped me greatly in my Perimeter role. While there are lots of war stories, my most rewarding experiences came from tackling the largest and most complex fires in the nation and bringing them to conclusion. I have received so many letters expressing appreciation for our work. As an example, Robert Hass, CEO of Levi Corp, wrote me a letter thanking us for saving his ranch in McCloud from the devasting Squaw Fire. There were many more.
I finished my 35-year career with the US Forest Service at the end of 2004 and immediately came to work with PHOS-CHEK. Many of the previous Forest Service Fire leaders, whom I knew well, had second careers with PHOS-CHEK. One of which was George Roby, pervious Forest Supervisor on the Angeles NF. He, more than anyone, helped me plan my second career. Larry Vandersall and Chuck George were giants in retardant science and taught me plenty.
For 18 years, my role in Perimeter Solutions has been as the Agency Liaison. It has been a career endeavor to conduct fire chemistry and Aviation Tactics & Strategy seminars to just about any audience. Our great CEO at the time, Eddie Goldberg, made it very clear that this position was all about relationships. This has been easy for me. All my time with the Agency and all my time as a National IC has resulted in enduring relationships with key opinion leaders in Fire Management. My State Forester and Regional Forester friends went on to take key leadership roles in the Dept of Agriculture and Interior. My Professor of Economics became the California State Forester. Maintaining existing relationships and building new ones has been my passion.
Admittedly, there are a lot of professions that provide a great deal of personal satisfaction. For me, the profession of firefighting and providing state of the art tools for firefighters, to be more efficient, is very rewarding. I call it a “White Hat” profession. A banker makes another loan, a florist makes another bouquet, and a fireman puts out a fire. At the end of the day the sense of achievement is high, knowing that you have done something unquestionably good for the community. It made me sleep better.
I am especially proud of Perimeter Solutions’ leadership and its employees for their compassion for folks who have lost their homes, been injured or even worse, lost loved ones in a wildland fire. Our company leadership has never failed to lend a helping hand and has built a culture that clearly understands that there is more to a successful business than merely an earnings report. This has made me most proud.
I’m moving on from Perimeter and will miss all my good friends. After 54 years in the fire service, I can say I am ambivalent and quite unprepared for what’s next. The “R” word has never been a mainstay of my vocabulary, but I plan on working hard at achieving many of those lifetime goals we all set for ourselves.