It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that the Montecito Fire Protection District reports the passing of former Fire Chief Herbert McElwee.
McElwee began his career in 1954 with the U.S. Forest Service. In 1964, he was hired by Santa Barbara County Fire, where he promoted through the ranks to operations section chief. After 21 years of service with Santa Barbara County Fire, he was appointed fire chief for the Montecito Fire Protection District on Jan. 1, 1987.
In June 2000, McElwee retired from Montecito Fire, but he remained as a liaison officer on U.S. Forest Service Central Coast Incident Management Team 7. He was actively working on national incidents and wildland fires as recent as this summer, giving him approximately 56 years of continual contributions to the Fire Service.
“Chief McElwee was a visionary who has profoundly influenced the direction of the Montecito Fire Protection District and the fire service throughout Santa Barbara County,” current Montecito Fire Chief Chip Hickman said. “His leadership and innovation will be greatly missed.”
McElwee brought Montecito Fire to a peak of professionalism when he championed and negotiated participation on State and National Incident Management Teams. The Montecito Fire Protection District became one of the most active municipal contract agencies, sending trained personnel on major incidents all over the nation, including Hurricane Katrina.
His many accomplishments included working on the Firescope committee to develop the Incident Command System, which is now utilized nationwide; implementing the Fire District’s paramedic program and relocating and building a new station headquarters. Chief McElwee also worked in partnership with the Montecito Water District and Montecito Sanitary District to create MERRAG (Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group), Montecito’s citizen emergency response team, which has been very active in community volunteer activities for over 25 years.
He was a past president of the Fire District’s Association of California as well as forester and fire wardens. He was also active with the Western Fire Chiefs Association.
Retired Montecito Fire Chief Ron McClain worked with McElwee for many years.
“Herb was an amazing and talented man that made many positive contributions to the fire service and especially to Montecito Fire Protection District,” McClain said.
Chief McElwee was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson to a State Task Force, which reviewed the service levels of health care facilities for special needs children.
“I am saddened by the news of Herb’s passing,” First District county Supervisor Salud Carbajal said. “Herb McElwee was an extraordinary public servant who touched the lives of countless individuals. He served and retired as chief of the Montecito Fire District with great distinction. He was a good friend and will be dearly missed in our community. Herb’s legacy of exceptional public service and leadership within the district and beyond will be an inspiration to all. My condolences and thoughts go out to the McElwee family.”
Funeral services are pending.
— Geri Ventura represents the Montecito Fire Protection District.