vanessa-newVanessa Remmers covers Stafford County government and schools for and The Free Lance-Star.

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Stafford Fire Chief to leave in May

Stafford County’s first fire chief is leaving the county next month. Chief Rob Brown, who came to Stafford in September 2005, accepted a position this week as fire chief of Fresno, Calif.

Here’s the full story from Saturday’s paper. 

He was contacted as part of national search in November, and has been talking with the county about it off and on, he said. “I finally decided to take the plunge,” Brown, 49, told the public safety committee on Thursday evening. He notified County Administrator Anthony Romanello on Wednesday, when he accepted the position. Brown then emailed all members of the department on Friday.

Chief Rob Brown, 49, will move to Fresno, Calif. in May.

“I did not envy your job,” Supervisor Gary Snellings said. “I knew you were going to have a tough time. And you did. But I have to give you credit, you stuck to your guns and got us to where we are today. We’re going to miss you.”

The county’s fire and rescue department has changed quite a bit in the past six and a half years.

“Before you got here, I can tell you, it was bad,” said Snellings, who served on the Fire and EMS Commission at the time. “We had a tough time. We were in The Free Lance-Star on a daily basis. We had volunteers that were just running crazy.”

A supervisor-appointed Fire and EMS Commission was in charge of overseeing the volunteer departments in the county. But in January 2005, after a year of dealing with a variety of fire and rescue issues, supervisors decided to create a chief’s position with authority over paid and volunteer personnel.

“It was a culture change here in Stafford. It took a lot of pressure off the Board of Supervisors,” said Supervisor Jack Cavalier, also on the board at the time.

An ordinance was written with input from fire and rescue volunteers, and the commission was then phased out. When Brown started in 2005, the department had 45 paid and 300 volunteer personnel at the 14 fire and rescue stations. Now, there are 116 career staff and 467 volunteers, 250 of which have responded to at least one call in the past year. The county has 15 fire and rescue stations that work with 14 volunteer rescue or fire/rescue companies. The department responds to 23,000 calls each year on a budget of $15 million.

“It may have appeared tough, but quite frankly, the folks in this system have always had the right stuff in their heart,” Brown said. “They’re cranking like a well oiled machine.”

Starting in mid-May, Brown will lead a much larger department. The Fresno Fire Department serves California’s fifth largest city with a population of 510,000. The 24 fire stations are staffed with 357 personnel who answer 33,000 calls per year with a budget of $57 million. Brown said the department was previously led by a good friend who retired. Brown was contacted during a national search to fill the position.

Brown said his wife, Beth, will remain in Stafford with their four sons, at least for a year, to let their oldest complete his senior year of high school in the county.

Here is part of Brown’s email, sent to the department this morning:

My decision to leave Stafford County was extremely difficult. The progress that our fire and rescue system has made over the last six plus years has been amazing. None of that progress would have been possible without the cooperation, dedication and commitment of all of the volunteer and career people that make up the Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department. All of you truly live up to our motto – One Mission, One Department, Many Partners!

I plan to transition in Mid-May. I will truly miss working with all of you. Through your hard work, dedication and commitment to the citizens of Stafford County, you truly provide best-in-class emergency services and have earned the respect of the community and of your colleagues in other fire and rescue systems.

Thank you for your friendship and your support. The six plus years that I have served as your county fire chief have truly been the most rewarding of my career.