Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Aston has stepped down from his post while on medical leave and plans to remain off-duty until he retires at the end of this year.
Aston, 56, has led the county department since 2008, a period marked by increasingly centralized command of the county's volunteer rural fire companies and efforts to upgrade stations, equipment and training.
The county department oversees 15 volunteer fire companies countywide and also manages emergency services.
Aston has been out on medical leave since mid-July for an injured foot and said he does not expect to return before his retirement, now planned for mid-November to mid-December.
In his absence, Roberta MacIntyre, the assistant chief fire marshal, has been the department's acting director. MacIntyre was named interim chief by County Administrator Veronica Ferguson on Wednesday.
Aston, reached by phone at his home in Coarsegold, north of Fresno, said he was looking forward to spending more time with family, including nine grandchildren. He said he was disappointed a nagging injury — a partial tear of a plantar tendon in his right foot sustained in a training exercise in December, he said — forced him to curtail many field duties and ultimately to step down early.
"It wasn't getting any better," he said, adding that he is likely facing surgery.
In his three-decade career, Aston served as fire chief for the City of Clovis; battalion chief for the Apple Valley Fire Protection District in San Bernadino County and as a firefighter for both the City of Corona and Riverside County.
He announced last November that he intended to retire at the end of this year, a date that extends his Sonoma County service to five years and makes him eligible for a county pension.
Aston credited his "team," including 21 full-time employees, 30 part-time staffers, 350 volunteer firefighters and dozens of volunteer hazardous material responders and radio operators, with "a lot of progress" in improving county fire service.