The City of Brea was incorporated in 1917, and at that time the Brea Fire Department was born. The department was totally volunteer and had several Chiefs, some of which included W.L. Moore, Archie Burns, Charles McGraw, and Emil Carson. During the 1930s Judge Charles Kinsler was named as Brea's first fully paid and first full-time fire chief.
Brea's First Fire Truck
During these years, Brea's only fire truck was a 1923 Seagrave. This was Brea's first fire truck and was purchased in 1923 for $16,000. It was known as "Old Susie" by the volunteers. Old Susie was put to the test in 1926 when lightening struck in the Union Oil fields and started an oil fire. The fire burned for one week, cost an estimated $7 million dollars and reportedly sent flowing, burning oil downhill from Brea into Fullerton.
Brea's First Fire Chief
In 1938 the fire department, which was slowly increasing its paid personnel, promoted A.G. Ellis as its Fire Chief. Chief Ellis, during his 26 years as chief, increased the manpower to 18 men, and brought Brea into the age of communications. He made a two-way radio and placed it in the pumper so the men in the field could communicate with a dispatcher. Two more pumpers were purchased during this time, and plans began for a second fire station. Initially, Brea's only fire station was in City Hall, shared by the Police Department and the rest of the city employees.
Brea's Second Fire Chief
When Chief Ellis retired in 1964, Kenneth Staggs was hired from the Covina Fire Department and began a 15-year reign of the department. In 1965, Station 1 at 555 N. Berry St. was completed and staffed. All Fire Department offices, in addition to an engine company, worked out of this location. Fire Station 2 at 125 S. Laurel Ave. was opened in 1977 as a temporary structure. This central location has served the city well as the downtown area has changed and expanded to become a busy hub for city activities. It was during his tenure as chief that Staggs implemented the Department's fire prevention program including business inspections, fire safety education, and the use of built-in fire protection equipment in commercial and industrial buildings.
Addition of Paramedic Services
In 1978 the citizens of Brea voted for and received paramedic service for the first time. The paramedics were stationed out of the new Station 2 facility in the center of town to ensure minimum response times to all areas of the city. For the first five years, the paramedics responded to medical emergencies on a two person medic unit. In 1983, the department expanded the program to include personnel at the engineer and captain ranks and went to a four person response on a full fire engine. This enhanced the department's ability to handle the broad variety of tasks facing its personnel and provided the number of personnel necessary on a first response for such life threatening situations as a heart attack. The program remains in this basic set-up today.
Brea's Division Chiefs
Chief Staggs retired in 1979 and for several years the department worked under two division chiefs, Dick Francesconi and Jerry McDowell. During this time, civilians were brought into the department to perform fire and life safety education, basic fire prevention inspection work, and code enforcement. In 1984, Division Chief Francesconi retired and Jerry McDowell was appointed fire chief. During his time as fire chief, Fire Station 3 was completed and dedicated in 1986. The Department also expanded during this time to include a Management Analyst position responsible for coordination of the city's emergency preparedness efforts.
The City's First Ladder Truck
Chief McDowell retired in 1989, and was followed by Bud Moody, who had been the fire marshal with Brea for several years. Chief Moody successfully pursued the acquisition of the city's first ladder truck which was put into service on October 19, 1992. The Simon LTI Quint 85' Ladder Truck was purchased for $475,000 from Newport Beach Fire Department who found out during the unit's development process that the truck was too tall for its station doors. The purchase of this unit completed a long-time goal of meeting the national response standards for residential fires with a full complement - three engines, a truck and a battalion chief. Chief Moody also initiated a reserve firefighter program in 1992 to augment fire department staff for this new piece of equipment.
Inclusion of a True Apprentice Program
Chief Moody retired in 1992, and Fire Marshal Bill Simpkins was appointed acting chief, a position he held until his official appointment as fire chief in February 1994. Chief Simpkins continued the development of the department by looking ahead to identify equipment, personnel, and facility needs for the coming decade. The reserve firefighter program was expanded from it's original volunteer status to a true apprentice program. Apprentices are now paid at minimum wage levels and all full-time firefighter positions are filled from this pool of personnel. Chief Simpkins also fostered the development of a Fire Explorer Program. This program, affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America, allows young men and women from 14-19 years of age the opportunity to experience a career as a firefighter first hand. With a strong focus on discipline and skill attainment, fire explorers work under the supervision of career firefighters to earn the privilege of riding along on the fire apparatus.
Brea's Chief & the Oakland Firestorm
Chief Al Nero, joined the department in fall of 1999 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge about wildland-urban interface. He had spent 24 years with the City of Oakland and then served as chief for nearby Richmond. Thus, he was an integral part of the suppression efforts for the massive Oakland firestorm. With local pressure for expansion into nearby hillsides mounts, Chief Nero was well aware of the many dangers inherent with geographic challenges. He was a big believer in ongoing community involvement and professional training for members of the profession. He also oversaw construction of the new downtown fire station, which was inaugurated in the fall of 2003. Chief Nero is now with the City of Tracy, CA.
The Current Fire Chief
Beginning in 2011, Fire Chief Marc Martin was hired to fill-in at a part-time, interim basis. On May 3, 2011, Wolfgang (Wolf)Knabe became the City of Brea’s fire chief. This was also the beginning of a Shared Fire Command Agreement between the cities of Brea and Fullerton. As part of this two-year pilot program, Chief Knabe will serve as fire chief for both municipalities.