Thanks to his predecessor, Stephen Butler says his first six months as Woodbridge fire chief has been a rather smooth one.
Butler, 45, replaced longtime chief Michael Kirkle, who retired on Dec. 31, 2010 after 31 years in Woodbridge. Butler has served 24 years at Woodbridge in his own right, so Kirkle was able to spend a lot of time training him.
Through Kirkle’s leadership, Butler was active not only in the 192-square-mile district, but in other parts of California, and even outside the state.
Since Woodbridge has a fire truck owned by the state Office of Emergency Services, Butler and other Woodbridge firefighters have been trained in fighting large wildland fires and other disasters. Butler said he’s fought fires in Malibu, San Diego, Mendocino, Alturas and as far away as Colorado.
But heading up the large rural district keeps him busy enough. The Woodbridge district goes around Lodi, including the Woodbridge residential area, western Acampo, rural areas west of Lodi, Flag City, Tower Park Marina and rural areas between Lodi and Stockton.
Butler oversees 27 employees covering three shifts in four fire stations. According to 2010 figures, the fire district’s population was 12,659.
One of the most important parts of Butler’s job, he said, is to maintain relationships with chiefs and other firefighters in neighboring districts because, in rural districts like Woodbridge, you don’t have the personnel to handle major incidents yourself.
“We’re not like L.A. County with 100 fire stations,” Butler said. “You rely on your neighboring districts.”
Until becoming assistant chief in September, Butler had worked a typical firefighter’s 24-hour shift, where you work for 24 hours straight and sleep when you can, then take a day or two off, depending on the shift schedule.
As an administrator, Butler works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. He likes going home every night to be with his girlfriend and teenage daughter. He also found that, as chief, he got to know firefighters on all three shifts better.
When working a 24-hour shift, you know your colleagues on that shift very well, but you don’t know the firefighters on the other two shifts.
“When you’re here every day, you pick up on their vibes,” Butler said.
Another new duty that Butler enjoys is going out into the community and chatting it up with residents and merchants. He will walk into a store and ask if anyone has any problems that the fire district can address.
“The people we serve are our customers,” he said. “I really like that part of the job.”
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.