Executive Team

Mike van Loben Sels (Thumbnail) Opens in new windowMike van Loben Sels
Fire Chief


On behalf of the men and women of the Merced County Fire Department we thank you for visiting our website. As a large organization, our objective is to ensure that our communities can easily discover what they need and the content on our website is both helpful and instructional.

Our primary mission is to provide a range of programs aimed at protecting the lives and property of the people of Merced County from the adverse effects of fires, sudden medical emergencies, exposure to hazardous materials, or other dangerous conditions. These programs include comprehensive fire protection planning, fire prevention education, code enforcement, and suppression and recovery.

As Fire Chief, our mission statement serves as our department's guiding principles and I am proud to represent this outstanding organization. Our department is dedicated to making Merced County a safer place to live, work and play. We are continually working to ensure that our training, equipment, and facilities meet the changing needs of the citizens and communities we serve.

Chief van Loben Sels, a long-time Merced County resident, is the 13th Fire Chief for Merced County Fire Department. He was raised in Los Banos, California, and began his firefighting career as a paid call firefighter for Merced County. Chief van Loben Sels has worked in the Madera Mariposa Merced Unit for the majority of his career and is not only dedicated to the department's success, but is invested in the community.
Mark PimentelMark Pimentel
Assistant Fire Chief


Mark Pimentel was appointed Assistant Fire Chief of the Merced County Fire Department on May 21, 2021. Chief Pimentel is the 11 Assistant Chief since Merced County came into agreement with CAL FIRE in 1988.  Under the direction of Chief Mike van Loben Sels, Chief Pimentel oversees the delivery of fire suppression and life safety services to more than 286,461 residents and commercial businesses in 4 cities and all unincorporated areas of Merced County. The Department's 1,979 square mile service area encompasses suburban areas, commercial districts, business centers, and thousands of acres of valuable farmland.

As the Assistant Chief, Mark Pimentel is responsible for a 20 million-dollar budget that includes a fleet of 60 vehicles, 21 facilities, 79 professional firefighters, and 194 volunteer firefighters. In addition to his duties as Assistant Chief, he also serves as the Deputy Director of Operations for the Merced County Office of Emergency Services. Mark's responsibilities include overseeing operations and organizing County emergency preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery, as well as assisting with emergency management coordination. Mark has spent the majority of his career in Merced County, where he has developed strong relationships that provide knowledge and understanding with operational area coordination.

Chief Pimentel is looking forward to the task of building a team that can face the unique difficulties of the twenty-first century. He achieves this through strategic planning, with a focus on personnel safety and welfare. He also ensures that our service delivery model meets the diverse needs of the communities we protect, implements sound fiscal strategies, prepares communities for major disasters, and develops career pathways for succession planning. Mark is committed to meeting the needs of our communities with professionalism, dedication and pride.


Battalion Chiefs

Greg Padilla (Thumbnail)Greg Padilla
Battalion 15 Chief

Chief Greg Padilla started his career in 2005 as a volunteer firefighter for the Dunsmuir Fire Department. In 2007, Greg started his career with CAL FIRE and in 2016, he accepted a promotion to Fire Apparatus Engineer in the Madera Mariposa Merced Unit (MMU) assigned to Merced County, where he has worked at a variety of stations. Over the course of his career in MMU, he has been fortunate to receive promotions and positions within MMU that have enabled him to grow and develop his knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Greg is currently a member of a CAL FIRE Incident Management Team and has been involved with different programs and committees within the department and unit. Greg holds an Associate of Arts Degree from the College of the Siskiyous and a Bachelor’s of Science in Forestry with an emphasis in Wildland Fire Management from Cal Poly Humboldt.
John Slate Opens in new windowJohn Slate
Battalion 16 Chief

Chief Slate holds an Associate Degree in Fire Science, additionally, he has been an instructor at the Merced College for the last five years where he helps instruct the Merced College EMT and Fire Academy’s. During John’s career, he has been involved with multiple teams and programs including, Fire Prevention, Public Information, Hazardous Materials, Technical Rescue, Aircraft Rescue Firefighting, Critical Incident Stress Management.  

 Chief Slate began his career in the fire service in 2001 as an Extra-Help Employee with the Merced County Fire Department. Within his years in the fire service he’s accepted positions and promotions with MMU that has helped increase his knowledge. In 2020 John transferred to Battalion 16 as a field Battalion Chief, there he currently manages the Hazmat, ARFF, and Scheduling Program as well as the four stations in that battalion. John also currently oversees the Merced County Fire Prevention office in the absence of the County Fire Marshal.


Joey Felix Opens in new windowJoey Felix
Battalion 17 Chief

Chief Joey Felix is a registered Fire Instructor with the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) Office in several fire service disciplines and is a certified OSFM Fire Officer. Additionally, he is a member of CAL FIRE Incident Management Team 1 Operations Section Chief. During Joey’s career, he has been involved with multiple teams and programs, including Serious Accident Review, Hazardous Materials, Technical Rescue, Critical Incident Stress Management.

Chief Felix began his career in the fire service in 1998 as a Paid Call Firefighter with the Merced County Fire Department at the Los Banos Station 71 Fire Station. In June of 2020 Joey was promoted to Battalion Chief as the Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit Safety officer. In 2021, Joey transferred to the Los Banos Battalion (Battalion 17) where he resides. Within his years in the fire service he’s transferred within the MMU and accepted promotions that has given him the opportunity to improve his knowledge in order to be in the position he is currently as a Battalion Chief.


Updated Photo Coming SoonVacant
Battalion 18 Chief
Brian White Opens in new windowBrian White
Battalion 19 Chief

Chief Brian White is passionate about training and can be often be found on the Castle Training grounds alongside new recruits, returning firefighters, and new Fire Apparatus Engineers, honing their skills and grooming the next generation of firefighters.

Chief White started his career in the fire service in 2000 while attending Columbia College in Sonora CA. Within his years in the fire service, Chief White worked long and hard to be where he is at today from a firefighter to a Battalion Chief. Brian returned back to Merced County as Battalion 19 in November of 2019 where he currently serves the communities and oversees five stations within his battalion including, Delhi, Ballico, Hilmar, Livingston, and Stevenson.


Justin Chaplin (Thumbnail)Justin Chaplin
Battalion 30 Chief

Chief Justin Chaplin fire service career began in 1999 as a Modesto City Fire Explorer.  He became an Intern Firefighter in 2001 with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department.  He started his career with CAL FIRE in 2002 as a Firefighter I in the Tuolumne Calaveras Unit (TCU).  Justin then promoted to a Firefighter II in San Benito Monterey Unit (BEU) working at Pebble Beach station and then transferred to Madera Mariposa Merced (MMU) working within the Merced County Fire Department agreement.  

Justin has a diverse background working in schedule A and schedule B as a Fire Apparatus Engineer (FAE) in both TCU and MMU. It was during these assignments that Justin began instructing CAL FIRE Firefighter courses for his local Unit(s) and Community Colleges. He has held schedule A and B Fire Captain positions in TCU, Training Center North, and MMU with a consistent focus on training and instructing.  

In his recent assignment as the Merced County Fire Department Training Officer, Justin has established the Castle Training Center and partnered with state and local training to enhance the development and growth of CAL FIRE and Merced County Fire personnel, California National Guard personnel, and College students from Merced, Columbia and Chabot.

Justin has participated with numerous Unit and State-wide committees, working groups and subject matter expert assignments.