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Santa Barbara County Fire Chief to Retire Early Next Year

Santa Barbara County will conduct a nationwide recruitment process to replace Chief John Scherrei.

After almost 40 years of service, Santa Barbara County Fire Chief John Scherrei on Monday confirmed with the Board of Supervisors and county CEO Michael Brown his plans to retire from county service early next year. His retirement will be effective Jan. 23, 2009.

“It has been a true honor for me to serve as chief of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department,” Scherrei said. “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.”

Scherrei came to Santa Barbara County in October 1999, when Brown appointed him county fire department chief. Before that, Scherrei spent 28 years in the Los Angeles City Fire Department, working his way up the ranks from firefighter to assistant chief.

In the nine years he has spent leading the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Scherrei, a former Marine and Vietnam vet with a master’s degree in public administration from Cal Lutheran University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Cal State Northridge, instituted several changes and improvements to the fire department. The department since has added paramedics and brush-clearing crews to its personnel, and the county’s first high-rise tower ladder truck and two firefighting and rescue helicopters to its equipment.

Scherrei also has helped form the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance, which raises money and acquires gear to help the county and city fire departments work more safely and effectively, as well as a Benevolent Association to help local firefighters and their families in times of tragedy and loss.

According to a county statement, Scherrei was also “instrumental in creating the county’s first memorial event at the historic Courthouse Gardens regarding the Sept.11 terrorist attacks, and also the 75th anniversary event commemorating the founding of the county fire department.”

Scherrei also saw the department through last year’s epic Zaca Fire, which took out around 240,000 acres, and last July’s Gap Fire, which came as close as some of the agricultural operations at the north end of the Goleta Valley.

“Chief Scherrei has served with distinction here in Santa Barbara County and throughout his entire career,” Brown said. “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 be conducting a nationwide recruitment process to find Scherrei’s successor. In the meantime, Deputy Fire Chief Tom Franklin will serve as interim chief. Franklin, who has served as deputy fire chief since 2005, is expected to start taking on his new responsibilities when Scherrei takes vacation time in November.

“It has been an honor to serve with Chief Scherrei, and I know I speak on behalf of the entire department when we all wish him and his wife, Piper, the best during his well-deserved retirement,” Franklin said.

Scherrei and his wife of 38 years have four children and 11 grandchildren. The couple look forward to spending more time with their family, Scherrei said.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

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