Rick Mullen: Reluctant Hero

He flew helicopters in war zones and now fights fires for a living, but Rick Mullen will not accept that he is a hero, a brave man or enjoys dangerous situations. 

“I’m not reckless,” he said. “I’m conservative in my risk assessment and hazard mitigation. What got me here is not risk taking so much as the influence of classical literature.”

Growing up in Chicago, Mullen read Homer’s “The Iliad,” stories about people having great adventures in distant shores against a backdrop of conflict. “I did want to have a life on a Homeric scale — I did, in a way.”

He was a military helicopter pilot for 30 years, mostly as a reservist, serving in the Gulf War. As squadron commander, he was deployed to Afghanistan and spent eight years on active duty stationed in North Carolina. Mullen currently serves as a captain of the fire service, stationed in Decker Canyon.

He concedes he has been caught in some scary situations, but dismisses any talk of bravery. 

“If you’re properly trained to do something, then you are prepared,” he said. “I’m just like a plumber, an electrician or a doctor. I’m trained to do a job.”

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In November 2016, Mullen was elected to Malibu City Council along with runningmates Skylar Peak and Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner who stood together as “Team Malibu.” It was an astute move.

“It was smart for me personally, as I was less known than the other two. I was actually the understudy. Mike Pearson of the Planning Commission was going to run. I didn’t want to be a fourth running on the same platform, but Mike backed out at the last minute for personal reasons and I stepped up.”

As a representative of the people, Mullen said he takes his responsibilities seriously. He is registered as non-party preference. “Party politics don’t seem to play a role in the local scene,” he observed.

While canvassing, Mullen heard Malibu residents’ No. 1 concern is the potential overdevelopment of the city and maintaining its rural character. “Number two is PCH traffic and public safety dangers that come from that. Also, problems associated with rehabs and short-term rentals. As I continually talk to residents, 85 percent of them want to keep Malibu the way it is.”

At a fundraiser for Mullen, Realtor Matt Rapf said, “Don’t change Malibu, let Malibu change you.” That became a theme of Mullen’s successful campaign.

He agrees that everyone has the right to develop his or her property “in accordance with the rules in the code.”

“There’s a clearly defined vision statement for the city, established 25 years ago, to create programs that avoid commercialization of our natural and cultural resources,” Mullen said. “That’s why we don’t have a bunch of high-rises on the beach.”

Mullen has lived in Malibu for 25 years with his wife, Jenny, and children, Marshall, 22, and Tatiana, 15. His son wants to take flying lessons, so Mullen might be tempted to buy a small plane and get back into the air.

“I saw a lot of Afghanistan, as we had a long-range helicopter. It’s a beautiful country,” he said. As is Malibu — and Rick Mullen wants to keep it that way. “Climate and geography are about 80 percent of the equation for a happy life.”

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