THE SAN MARCOS FIRE DEPARTMENT IS READY TO RESPOND IN 92078
From its beginnings as a volunteer organization in 1936, the San Marcos Fire Department has grown to include four active stations and seventy-six firefighters, EMTs, and staff members. Brett Van Wey began his career as a reserve firefighter more than twenty-eight years ago and has witnessed much of that growth on his path to becoming Fire Chief. He and the department value rapid responses within the 33-square-mile service area, especially with the continued drought increasing risk of fire. Read along as we chat with Chief Van Wey about disaster prevention and preparedness at SMFD, as well as daily life at the station.
Q & A with Fire Chief Brett Van Wey
WHEN WAS THE FIRST STATION IN SAN MARCOS OPENED?
In 1936 the San Marcos Fire Department (SMFD) was established as a volunteer organization. In 1946 the first full-time firefighter was hired and in 1970 the first permanent fire station was built.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY BEHIND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE SAN MARCOS FIRE DEPARTMENT?
Since its inception, the San Marcos Fire Department has been privileged to experience strong community support, which has built the foundation for the department and continues to shape the organization moving forward.
The San Marcos Fire Department was formed in 1936 as a volunteer organization and hired its first full-time firefighter in 1946. As the community and fire district experienced tremendous population growth, so too did SMFD. By 1970, our first permanent fire station was built, paving the way for stations two and three in the 1980s along with the addition of paramedic services.
During these major growth periods, the City of San Marcos provided the funding and management needed to assure the fire department could keep pace with the community’s growth and surrounding district lands.
Working with SMFD for more than twenty-eight years has given me the unique opportunity to experience the department’s transformation over the years. As fire chief, a key goal will be to make sure we are growing and mentoring our firefighters and staff to continue the tradition of service excellence while protecting the San Marcos community as it continues to grow.
AS FIRE CHIEF, WHAT IS YOUR ROLE?
My role is to lead the fire department by mentoring, guiding, giving direction and overseeing the activities and operations of the fire department including fire suppression, fire prevention, emergency medical services, hazardous response, and disaster preparedness.
I feel it is my responsibility to lead by example and set the standard that will unify the department so that we can work as a team through life-saving decisions using dedication, knowledge, and skill.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND HOW DID YOU ATTAIN THE STATUS AS FIRE CHIEF?
I started with the department as a reserve firefighter more than twenty-eight years ago and have a long history of training and teaching in the San Marcos area. After moving up the department ranks as engineer, I progressed to captain in 2001 and battalion chief shortly thereafter. While with SMFD, I have also served more than two decades as an adjunct instructor and fire technology coordinator at Palomar College.
Some major accomplishments for the department include assisting in the development of the City’s three newest fire stations and the regional training facility, implementing emergency operations procedures for San Marcos and North San Diego County cities, and developing a revenue-sharing program between Palomar College and local fire departments.
I received my A.A. in Fire Science from the college and have a B.A. in Public Administration from San Diego State University.
Ultimately, my tenure with the San Marcos Fire Department combined with my experience as an instructor and fire technology coordinator has uniquely qualified me to step into the fire chief’s shoes.
WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF THE SAN MARCOS FIRE DEPARTMENT, IN TERMS OF PERSONNEL, APPARATUS, AND SHIFTS?
We have four fire stations with each station having an engine staffed by a captain, engineer, and a firefighter/paramedic. Each station also has an ambulance with a firefighter/paramedic and an EMT. In addition to having an engine and ambulance, Fire Station 1 has a truck company with a captain and two engineers. Fire Station 4 has a battalion chief, giving us a total of twenty-four suppression personnel each day. We have three shifts that work twenty-four hours on a rotation.
HOW MANY STATIONS ARE THERE WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT?
The San Marcos Fire Department provides service from four fire stations geographically located throughout the City. The department has always been committed to having a rapid response time throughout the entire 33-square-mile service area. Because fire can grow exponentially in a matter of minutes and time is the most crucial factor in patient survival during medical emergencies, the department strives to arrive on scene as quickly as possible with appropriately trained and equipped personnel.
WHAT IS THE TYPICAL SHIFT LIKE AT THE STATIONS?
A shift begins with an hour-long apparatus and equipment check followed by shift briefing and daily training or other routine. When no calls are in need of response, crew on duty then continue inspections, station tours, community events and outreach, maintenance, and/or additional training.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE MOST GRATIFYING ASPECT OF SERVING THE SAN MARCOS RESIDENTS?
Knowing that each day you can make a difference on somebody’s worst day.
WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON TYPE OF CALL TO WHICH PERSONNEL AT THE STATIONS RESPOND?
Emergency medical calls are 70% of what we handle. This is why we went to firefighter/paramedics – they serve a dual role.
IN REGARDS TO FIRE SEASON, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO TELL OUR READERS ABOUT FIRE PREPAREDNESS?
This year’s record-breaking heat and exceptionally dry weather are not only challenging in terms of water supply, but these conditions have set the scene for the most active fire season to date.
Suburban and urban landscapes can influence how fire spreads and behaves. In light of the existing drought conditions, maintaining defensible space around a home and preparing your family for an emergency has become more important than ever to protect our communities.
IS THERE ANYTHING UNIQUE OR UNUSUAL ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT OR THE STATIONS WITHIN? WHAT SETS YOU APART FROM OTHER FIRE DEPARTMENTS?
We are known as a very organized and well-disciplined organization. We also enjoy what we do and try to ensure that everyone goes home safe each day.
WHAT TYPE OF ONGOING TRAINING FOR PERSONNEL AT THE DEPARTMENT OCCURS ON A REGULAR BASIS?
We set out a yearly training plan to keep up on our skills. Each employee does a minimum of two hours of training each day. The fire service has been handed not only the emergency medical service with paramedics, but other duties such as dealing with hazardous materials, employing different types of rescue, and the fire ground skills.
WHAT IS YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH THE LOCAL SCHOOLS?
We visit local elementary through high schools to provide fire safety education. The department also supports and attends high school and community college career fairs.
DOES THE SAN MARCOS FIRE DEPARTMENT HAVE ANY PROGRAMS, EVENTS, OR FUNDRAISERS COMING UP?
Each year, the San Marcos Fire Department holds an annual Open House in recognition of National Fire Prevention Week in October. The free event gives the community an opportunity to visit a local fire station and talk with firefighters while learning more about the San Marcos Fire Department and fire safety. During the event, we host a firefighters’ BBQ and offer fun activities to engage families in our community.
WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT FIREFIGHTERS AND EMERGENCY PERSONNEL?
People always want to know why we take the big fire engine. The answer is that we need to always be prepared for the next emergency. Everyone wants the best service they can get, which is why we respond in force and are prepared for any situation. We always plan for the worst and hope for the best.
FIREFIGHTERS OFTEN BECOME KNOWN FOR THEIR COOKING SKILLS – DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE A RESIDENT “TOP CHEF”, SOMEONE WHO HAS A REPUTATION FOR GOOD MEALS?
We tell all people aspiring to be in the fire service to learn the basics like boiling noodles and then get their mom’s best recipe and perfect it. You have to have at least one go-to meal. When all else fails, make sure you make a lot and that it’s hot. We do have a few very good cooks that impress us with some pretty gourmet meals.
WHAT WOULD MOST SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT THE SMFD?
Not only does SMFD protect the residents of San Marcos, but the department is equipped, prepared, and able to respond to any major incident in the State of California. In the region, SMFD can respond to any fire in Escondido, Carlsbad, or Vista. Through mutual aid, SMFD also responds to calls throughout the region and state. This year, SMFD sent a crew to fight the Lodge Complex Fire in Northern California for more than fourteen days.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU THINK WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE SMFD?
I am proud to lead a very dedicated, competent, and loyal group of firefighters that always have the community’s best interest in mind.
Brett Van Wey At-A-Glance
Profession: Fire Chief
Community: San Marcos
Education: A.A. in Fire Science from Palomar College; B.A. in Public Administration from San Diego State University
Hobbies/Interests: Camping and outdoor activities with my family
Favorite Spots in 92078: Mr. Taco and Sublime Ale House
By The Numbers
SERVICE AREA – The San Marcos Fire Department provides service to the City of San Marcos and the San Marcos Fire Protection District, which covers an area of 33 square miles and a population of approximately 95,000 residents.
ADDRESS – Administration: Civic Center Dr., San Marcos, CA 92069
STAFFING – 79 full-time firefighters and support personnel
4 primary fire engines
3 brush engines
1 primary truck
1 OES water tender
4 primary ambulances
1 trail rescue vehicle
3 reserve fire engines
5 command vehicles
1 reserve truck
3 reserve ambulances
1 mobile emergency operations center
Questions for Fire Engineer Dave Lange
1. WHAT IS THE MOST FULFILLING PART OF THE DAY FOR YOU?
To tell a citizen that we did our best and it made a difference, whether on a medical call or putting out a fire.
2. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CHALLENGE TO OVERCOME?
To overcome and adapt when plan A doesn’t work and having a plan B ready.
3. WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
That I come to work and it’s not the same routine day after day. You don’t know what kind of call you will run. I can help someone in their greatest hour of need.
– Fire Engineer Dave Lange