Being fire chief of Santa Barbara County can’t be an easy job, with its extended, dry fire season and an expansive, rocky, and hilly terrain that makes firefighting difficult, but County Fire Chief John Scherrei has led the charge for the last nine years. On Monday, he informed the county he planned to retire early next year.
Scherrei, who has been in the top spot since 1999, will officially retire January 23, 2009. “It has been a true honor for me to serve as Chief of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department,” Scherrei said in a statement. “We’ve been through some amazing times and the expectations and demands upon the fire service community have never been greater. The County Fire Department has been family to me. I am proud of every member of this department and their dedication to our profession.”
Those times included the merger of the Solvang and Orcutt fire departments into the County Fire Department and fighting one of the largest fires in state history, the Zaca Fire, which consumed roughly 240,000 acres. Scherrei also led the department during the recent 9,400-acre Gap Fire. No homes were destroyed and no lives were lost in either fire.
Scherrei came from the City of Los Angeles Fire Department, where for 28 years he served in many positions, from firefighter to assistant chief.
“Chief Scherrei has served with distinction here in Santa Barbara County and throughout his entire career,” said county chief executive Mike Brown in a statement Monday. “He has advanced the state of fire response and all-hazard emergency response in the County and our residents, businesses and visitors have benefited from his leadership and duty to serve.”
The county will conduct a nationwide recruitment, but in the meantime, Deputy Chief Tom Franklin, who has been a member of the County Fire Department since 1977 and has served as Deputy Fire Chief since 2005, will step in for Scherrei beginning in November, when the chief has a vacation planned.
Also during Scherrei’s time, the department added paramedics to its engine companies, created two brush-clearing crews, acquired the county’s first high-rise tower ladder truck, and deployed two firefighting and rescue helicopters.
Scherrei was appointed by Brown as the County Fire Department Chief on October 4, 1999. He previously had a 28-year career with the City of Los Angeles Fire Department, where he held all ranks from firefighter to Assistant Chief and was often the highest ranking fire official on duty for the Los Angeles area.