OROVILLE — At a simple ceremony Monday, a 41-year veteran of firefighting services who served as Cal Fire-Butte County Chief for 6.5 years, passed a symbolic bugle and the reins on to another longtime colleague.
The ceremony at Southside Community Center in Oroville was the official transition of the office of chief from Henri Brachais, 59, to George Morris Jr., 53.
Attending were county supervisors local fire agency representatives, family members, and Cal Fire Assistant Region Chief of Northern California Ken McLean and Cal Fire Chief Director Del Walters.
Walters presented Brachais with an official retirement letter on behalf of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger and Cal Fire.
The letter outlined his career, which began in the late 1960s with a job with the California Division of Forestry in Tuolomne and Calaveras counties. He did stints in higher positions in San Bernardino County, and moved to Butte County in the early 2000s.
After accepting the framed letter and congratulations, Brachais took the podium.
"I've had a great career with Cal Fire," he said. "It's been a wild ride ..."
Noting that fire chiefs use radios to communicate on the field now, the exiting chief talked about the early means of communication: speaker bugles, or trumpets.
"Six and a half years ago, the same trumpet was passed to me," said Brachais, holding a large, silver bugle. "I had no idea what it was going to be like."
Following tradition, Brachais handed the bugle to Morris, who was then pinned by his wife, Kim.
Morris has been in firefighting for 33 years. He first got the idea to work in fire services at the age of 16, when his father, George Morris Sr., suggested he try the state Division of Forestry. The younger Morris said he knew within a week that was what he wanted to do. His two sons, George III and Steven, are also firefighters.
The new chief used the address to give his first general orders, telling employees to remember they work for the citizens of Butte County; to look for opportunities to work with "cooperatives" (other agencies) and other fire departments; and support one another professionally and personally.
After the ceremony, Walters said the new chief will face many challenges ahead: specifically the economy, but also the interpersonal challenge of running a complex fire department.
Walters appointed Morris after a long process that included an evaluation by McLean, and a letter of support from Butte County Board of Supervisors.
"George is a stalwart," Walters said. He also noted that Morris has earned the respect and trust of all.
Brachais said later he felt anxious and apprehensive about his retirement, but is looking forward to a new chapter.
Married since his early career, he and his wife haven't known any other life but firefighting, he said. He said he hopes they'll be able to spend time doing things together, such as camping with his grandchildren, "while we're still young enough to enjoy them." He has nine grandchildren.
Brachais said some of his best experiences were during the 17 years he spent as an arson investigator in San Bernardino County, chasing down a serial arsonist.
"But my most memorable time was here, last year, because of the sheer number and size of the fires," he said.
For Morris, the ceremony and change is good, he said later. He is energized and eager to move forward and lead the men and women in the department.
He acknowledged there will be challenges.
"Obviously, the biggest challenges are budget related," he said. "Those will be challenges for the next several years."
He said the team in Cal Fire-Butte County is "as good as you can find," and that they'll all work together.
Brachais officially retires today.
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