By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor
Lemoore firefighters are always on the job. Here, Sterling Stinger (left) and Stuart Lyons (right) confer with Fire Chief Bruce German.
Lemoore firefighters are always on the job. Here, Sterling Stinger (left) and Stuart Lyons (right) confer with Fire Chief Bruce German.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he spends his favorite holiday with the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department, and like clockwork, every Christmas the jolly old gentleman and his reindeer hitch a ride on the department’s massive ladder truck – part of the annual Lemoore Christmas Parade – before departing, to resume his more mundane traditional Christmas chores.

Once Santa’s duties in Lemoore are done, the Lemoore volunteers get back to work too. The hearty association of Lemoore’s finest (no women yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen) is always on the job, forever listening for the tell-tell beep of a pager that can go off anytime, anywhere.

Bruce German was appointed fire chief following the retirement John Gibson. In December, he will be up for re-election.
Bruce German was appointed fire chief following the retirement John Gibson. In December, he will be up for re-election.

The Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department is the city’s first line of defense when a fire breaks out, an accident injures someone, a hazardous condition looms, or there’s a dire medical need.

They always seem to be the first ones on the scene.

The Lemoore Volunteers – all 35 of them – respond at a moment’s notice, dropping their tools if at work, throwing a quick wave to a loved one, or setting aside lunch to meet the city’s beckon call.

The department’s new chief and go-to guy Bruce German is a 30-year veteran of the department, who as a recent transplant from the bright lights of Riverdale in 1988 developed a friendship with longtime volunteer and then chief, Norman Garcia. It was Garcia who convinced him to join the fire department.

But Garcia didn’t’ promise him a paycheck, just a pledge that the work he does will be important and rewarding. Well, German’s still a volunteer fireman, and the department’s newest chief, the latest in a long line of volunteer chiefs since the department’s founding in 1922.

German was appointed chief in January to complete the four-year term of former chief Bob Gibson, who retired early. He’ll be up for re-election in December for a full four-year term.

Thirty-year veteran of Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department takes reins of organization

Mayor Ray Madrigal was pleased with German’s selection. “Bruce is the logical choice to lead the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department since the retirement of Chief John Gibson,” he said. “He has been with LVFD for many years which gives him a wealth of much needed institutional knowledge.”

Madrigal, serving his first term on the Lemoore City Council, said German’s 30 years of experience within the fire department’s structure earned him the respect of his fellow firefighters, and the city is counting on the new chief to provide “stability and leadership” as the department continues its excellent work in the community. 

“I knew absolutely no one,” remembered German who quickly fell in with the department’s volunteers, many of whom had been with the fire department for years. He was vetted and soon found himself a member of a cherished Lemoore institution. He celebrates his 30th anniversary with the Volunteer Fire Department June 18.

“Norm Garcia recruited me when I first moved to town. I was working for Gary Burrows at the time, and I was available for daytime calls, and that’s always been the struggle in having daytime people,” said German who spends his waking hours working in the ag industry evaluating irrigation systems for the farming community.

German is married. He and his wife Denise have two children, Jessica and Jacob. He is eager to talk about the department’s mission.

“Once I got in I realized that it’s just, you know, that sense of duty, and it might sound corny, but it’s the duty to the city. You want to contribute something. This is a good town.”

As the affable 62-year-old fire chief answered questions in the Lemoore Fire Department’s spotless station on Fox Street, three alarms went off in the space of an hour (most volunteers get their incident warnings from their cell phones or pagers). Long gone is the air-raid-style siren, housed atop Lemoore City Hall, a device whose screaming sound blanketed the entire city. On this day, and in only minutes, firefighters called in or arrived at the station, mounted their vehicles and sped off.

This day is typical of a volunteer's day, and there are a lot of “normal” days in the life of a firefighter.

In 2017 Lemoore firefighters and EMTs responded to a total of 1,863 incidents, the clear majority related to medical conditions, prompting Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) to respond to the scene.

The department responded to 56 fires and 46 hazardous conditions last year. However, 60 percent of the calls are usually canceled, referred to as “good intent” calls. They account for 60 percent of the calls. They include such things as smoke odors, BBQ smoke, false gas fumes.

The department is very visible. On a weekly basis, the volunteers often train near the Lemoore City Park, or other locations. Public service is a big deal too. In addition to the annual Christmas Parade, the department participates in National Night Out, the Pizza Festival, and Veterans’ Day Parade.

“That’s what makes us who we are. We all trust each other, and there is no wavering, there is no ‘I’m not riding in the truck with that guy.’ We’re all in it together, and there’s no selfishness. When we are on calls and fires, everybody listens to the person who is giving the orders, and there is no balking, no nothing. Everybody just really gets along, and that’s what makes us what we are,” said German.

Volunteer fire departments are by no means a rarity, in fact, they’re the norm in many parts of the United States, including California. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 71 percent of the nation’s registered fire departments are manned by volunteers. In California, 29.6 percent of its departments are manned by volunteer firefighters while 28.8 percent are “mostly volunteer.”

Fire departments can be expensive too. Lemoore volunteers man two stations, the central facility on Fox Street and a facility at the old Corporation Yard on Cinnamon Drive where volunteers keep three trucks available for calls.

At some point in Lemoore’s future, the city might entertain adding a paid chief, like many volunteer departments have done, including the City of Reedley, where a paid fire chief and battalion commander oversee a contingent of volunteers.

The department has a total of eight vehicles, and they’re not cheap. One of the newest trucks is a state-of-the-art ladder truck that cost the city $750,000. A fire “engine” cost $450,000 while the city paid $250,00 for an EMT vehicle.

IN 2017 the City of Lemoore budgeted $435,041 for the fire department. The firefights are paid $5 every time they respond to a call, about the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. However, the volunteers never keep the money. Instead, the money is paid directly into a Volunteer Fire Department account. Recently, city officials and volunteers decided to alter the arrangement, requiring the payment to go directly to a Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department IRS approved non-profit 501 c 3 accounts.

The volunteers consistently train, and guided by his assistant chiefs, Dave Jones and Dan Ospital; the volunteers train at least once a week. “We train every Tuesday night for two hours,” said German. “Our guys are assigned to two trucks. There are 35 of us there – two assistant chiefs – so that leaves a core group of 32. We split that group up into four groups of eight and eight guys will take two trucks out every Tuesday night. They train on those same trucks for a month,” said German.

The train encompasses most aspects of firefighting: learning new equipment, climbing ladders, practicing ventilation techniques (cutting holes in roofs, sides), pulling hose, and much more.

It all adds up: training, committed volunteers, and a commitment to the safety of Lemoore. Santa Claus would undoubtedly give his seal of approval, as he does every Christmas from atop the Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department’s sleek ladder truck.