Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Ben Lomond Fire District Chief

New Calif. Chief Follows in Her Father's Footsteps

Kimberly White - Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif. 
Nov. 25--SANTA CRUZ -- Stacie Brownlee never intended to follow in her dad's footsteps as a firefighter, but when he died, she was saddened not only by his loss, but also the possibility of losing an entire family.
"I just didn't want to see the fire department out of my life," recalled Brownlee, 44, who last week was appointed as the newest fire chief at the Ben Lomond Fire District. "I thought it was going to be hard because all my girlfriends' dads were fire chiefs and I thought, How am I going to get through this whole thing, seeing them go to firemen's musters and stuff like that and not be a part of it anymore?'"
Her father, Michael Smith -- who served as chief of the Ben Lomond Fire District from 1974 until his death in 1984 -- passed away on Brownlee's 18th birthday, around the time when she was deciding on a career path.
So she took the required fire-related courses at Cabrillo College and joined the district in 1984, becoming the first female firefighter in the entire San Lorenzo Valley.
"It was tough. They didn't like girls in their little men's club," she remembered, adding that her uncles -- who also worked as firefighters -- didn't even want her there. But "once I proved I could do the job, they left me alone. They knew that they didn't have a problem."
She moved up the ranks to captain and battalion chief before her appointment as chief. She'd served since May as interim chief, following the April 30 retirement of the previous fire
chief, John Charcho.
Brownlee was initially undecided whether to accept the position when board members first approached her about the possibility.
Fire chiefs perform largely administrative duties, and part of their job requires them to ensure the members of the crew -- all but one of the 35 firefighters under her charge are volunteers -- stay current on their training and certifications.
"My favorite position is being a fire captain and being on line and being with the guys, and this is a totally different position," she explained, but added that she decided to accept the position because "we were nervous that if we had somebody else come in from out of the area that didn't know the small town, they would try to run it differently."
No changes are on tap at the district, which pays for its volunteers' firefighting educations. Brownlee wants to keep it a small department where volunteers can continue to come to receive training, and hopefully eventually land full-time positions with larger departments.
"When other paid departments pick them up, like San Jose, it's a win-win situation," she added. "They've got education, they've got classes, they've got experience. They're trained firefighters."

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