Fire chief extinguishes his career
By Kymm Mann/Appeal-Democrat
Retired Sutter County Fire Services Manager Chuck Vanevenhoven, right, chats with a guest at his recent retirement party at Hillcrest Plaza. The chief was in the fire service 34 years.
He's had two hernias, plummeted through a ceiling, overturned a water tender truck and fallen off a roof.
So maybe it was good, after 34 years in the fire service, that Chuck Vanevenhoven finally called it quits.
The Sutter County Fire Services manager retired in January after serving seven of those 34 years as chief. He mingled and laughed at his recent retirement dinner at Hillcrest Plaza in Yuba City, greeting people at the door and swapping stories with new and veteran firefighters alike.
“I was a little overwhelmed,” he said. “But the really special thing, was, my old captain from CDF, Paul Burks, was there. He's 85 and came to the party.”
The event was organized by Live Oak Fire Capts. Dan Yager and Dan Root, along with the Sutter County firefighters.
“It's good, I'm ready,” Vanevenhoven said with a smile between greeting guests. “It's been a good, long time in the field, and because of the statistics that show the stress factors of fire service are very high, they allow you to retire at 50.”
Vanevenhoven overdid his time by nearly two years and said he has bittersweet feelings about the retirement.
“It's going to be sad leaving all my good people, lots of friends and really good co-workers; What I'm going to miss is working with the family,” he said. “It's cliched, but working with those guys, we're a family. But I'm definitely ready for the next chapter of my life.”
While the former chief relaxes and spends some well-deserved time fishing, hunting and spending time with his daughter, Paige, and girlfriend, Pam Sullivan, various captains will fill in until the hiring of another chief, according to Root.
“We all just pull a little extra duty until we find a replacement,” he explained. “Chuck's dedication to Sutter County and to the fire service has been an inspiration to many of us in the Fire Department. All of us who have worked with him over the many years ... wish him well in his retirement.”
Root, a captain for eight months, has been with Sutter County for 24 years.
Vanevenhoven began his career with the Regional Occupational Program, or ROP, at Yuba City High School in 1972.
“It was called the fundamentals of firefighting and was held at (former) Walton Fire station,” he recalled.
He still remembers missing his high school graduation night party because he was working with California Department of Forestry in Dobbins and got called to a fire at the Colgate Power House.
“I had friends come by the station and say, ‘Man, you missed a really good party,'” he said with a hearty laugh. “But I really, really wanted to work in fire service.”
Vanevenhoven did it all, including serving as fire chief and fire marshal before they were separate positions, as well as fighting fires.
His sharpest - and scariest - memory is overturning a truck at an intersection just six months after he got hired.
“It was June 1975, and I was responding to a mutual aid ... we
were going through an intersection Code 3 and I was in a great big water tender carrying 1,500 gallons of water, and a car hit me and knocked the water tender over on its top, and we skidded across the intersection,” he recalled.
“We were banged up a little bit, but the vehicle that hit us was smashed up pretty good. The guy was pinned and the car's engine compartment was on fire. We found the fire extinguisher, which had been thrown into a nearby orchard, and then helped the rescue squad cut the guy out.”
Vanevenhoven said he received accolades for his assistance “above and beyond the call of duty.”
“I just knew my fire career was over,” he said with a laugh. “I thought, ‘Man, I wrecked the fire truck!' But it worked out well.”
Vanevenhoven will continue to teach the fire academies at Yuba and Butte colleges, which he has done for 10 years. He also wants to visit his stations and former employees as often as possible.
Some of the former chief's greatest accomplishments, he said, are upgrading the emergency vehicle fleet, which included 10 new pieces of equipment, including a water tender, and Type 4 engines.
His biggest achievement was building the new fire station and Emergency Operations Center in Sutter in 2003.
“That was huge, because that was where everyone went to for high ground during floods, and that little Quonset hut from World War II, that just wasn't cutting it,” he said.
One of things Vanevenhoven said he will not miss is the inability to leave work at work.
“That's one luxury you don't have in a chief position,” he said. “You're always on call, so it's hard to have much of a personal life, even though I decided a long time ago that this isn't going to be my life, it's part of my life, but I need to do other things.”
For now, Vanevenhoven he still has rarely a dull moment, even three months after officially retiring. His parents, Tom and Peg, live in Tierra Buena, and his brother Nick runs Van's Bike Shop in Yuba City.
“I guess retirement just kind of snuck up on me,” he said. “I had some things I wanted to do for the department and all of a sudden, I woke up one morning and realized that I was the old guy. It's young man's job, and I'm not young any more.”