What can Brown do for you? Outgoing Tahoe fire chief reflects on career
This is the first in a two-part Q-and-A interview with Chief Mike Brown.
Mike Brown’s fire service work history
1980-86: Worked as a paramedic/auxiliary fire fighter with the Truckee Meadows FPD.
1986-99: Worked as firefighter/paramedic, and eventual captain, with the North Lake Tahoe FPD.
1999-2003: Worked as a battalion chief for the Nevada Division of Forestry.
2003-06: Returned to North Lake Tahoe FPD in roles of assistant battalion chief, battalion chief, and assistant chief.
2006-present: Chief of the North Lake Tahoe FPD (appointed October 2006).
Beginning next month, North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Ryan Sommers will take over for outgoing Chief Mike Brown.
The Incline Village native says he’s, “extremely honored” and looking “forward to continuing on Chief Brown’s legacy and to continue to do the right things, for the right reasons for the citizens of Incline and Crystal Bay.”
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — If there’s any reason to doubt Mike Brown’s commitment to the community of Incline Village/Crystal Bay, you can look no further than the sidewalk on Highway 28 across the street from Rookies.
It’s Monday, Feb. 15, and Incline’s fire chief is sitting down at the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza office, its windows overlooking that sidewalk, for an interview about his recent decision to retire.
Not long after things begin, he quickly interrupts the interview, snatches up his radio and bursts out of the office.
“A lady just fell down out there,” he hurriedly says before running out the door.
Sure enough, within moments Brown is by the woman’s side as she dusts herself off after the slip and fall on the sidewalk between the Bonanza office and Hacienda de la Sierra restaurant.
Hands on knees, Brown consoles the woman and asks her to walk him through what happened. A couple minutes later, he pats her on the back and wishes her well.
“She’s OK,” he says, a bit out of breath as he returns to the office. “She fell on the uneven ground … she had her hands in her pockets, so she couldn’t break her fall. But she’ll be OK.”
Helping anyone in need, no matter how big or small — it’s all in a day’s work for Brown, whose last day as chief of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District will be March 18.
Before he retires, he took time to answer several questions about his career in Incline, as well as the past, present and future of fire prevention in the Lake Tahoe Basin:
North Lake Tahoe Bonanza: First things first — why are you retiring, and what led to the decision?
Mike Brown: There comes a time … it’s the right time for me to take care of my family. You know, back in October when I first started looking at this, I looked at where we’re at, and I think the district is in a great stable position right now for someone new to come in and work with our staff, who are incredible individuals, to take the district further in a positive direction, because it is a very positive organization … so I think it’s a good time. I’ve always wanted to leave when things were going well so that the next administration could continue the legacy that I received from (former chief) Jim Linardos and that he received from (former chief) Loren Enstad.
Bonanza: In 1995, the NLTFPD performed its first-ever prescribed fire. What can you say about that accomplishment and why this practice is so important two decades later?
Brown: Prescribed fire was first done in the basin on IVGID land, which is private property, by the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District, with the assistance of IVGID, Nevada Division of Forestry as well as the California State Parks …
(Writer’s note: This is the point of the interview when Brown runs out to help the woman who fell; below is where he continues)
… What we’ve done in terms of fuels reduction in the Tahoe Basin all started back in the early 90s. It’s been, I gotta say the foundation of the entire Tahoe Basin, it’s a success story that will go for many many more years. If we don’t continue to manage our fuels, it’s just like your lawn at home — if you don’t mow it, it grows back, and it gets to the point where you can’t catch up. And that’s where we are, continuing to play catch-up until we get everything treated and we’re able to treat it in a manner that’s manageable. But it’s also got to be good on the environment, and that’s what we’re learning.
… It’s been very successful. It’s an example throughout the nation; I have fire chiefs, communities call from all over the U.S., asking how our program has been so successful. And my response to them, is ‘It’s getting the buy-in from the members of your community on how it’s going to affect us in the future, and how it’s going to currently affect us.’ We can continue to look at the past — we’ve learned from the past — and now we’re going to continue to be proactive, and that’s how we need to look at it.”
Bonanza: Speaking of the past, in 1997, President Bill Clinton led the first-ever Lake Tahoe environmental summit. What’s your view on how that summit has evolved the last 19 years?
Brown: Boy, I wish I could say it was all about fuels reduction and catastrophic fire and such, but it really had to do with clarity of Lake Tahoe. Clarity is a big issue, not only for the enjoyment of us all, locals and visitors … but it’s a big source of drinking water for Nevada and California, and people have to remember that … so we’ve got to everything we can to maintain the clarity of Lake Tahoe.
When Clinton was here … I was fortunate enough to be assigned to him as his personal paramedic and work directly with the Secret Service and all that; myself and Mike Schwartz (former NLTFPD assistant chief, now chief of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District), we got quite the insight on what was taking place, it was very educational and it helped us set up a good foundation for where we’re at today.
When you look at the runoff issues, that was a big issue back then, and they continue to be issues now, and they will be into the future. The Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, I believe that’s a great offshoot of what took place almost 20 years ago with the president and the vice president (Al Gore) coming out here. It’s in the process right now of hopefully being approved back in Washington, that will also bring several million dollars as did Clinton and Gore when they came out to assist in our efforts to keep Tahoe blue.
And I gotta say, what’s unique about all this here, and I’m just so proud of it, is that we don’t have territories in the Tahoe Basin. We’ve got a state line, but when it comes to what we’re doing, between all the agencies involved, we’re working together. It’s not California versus Nevada or Nevada versus California — it’s everybody working together with the same common goal, and that includes the TRPA, which I’ve got to say is another achievement we’ve had in the last several years, is the cooperative effort we’re seeing out of TRPA that we did not see several years ago. And it’s issues like the Angora Fire (in 2007) that turn them (TRPA) around … which, let me tell you, it (the Angora Fire) was an education, and it allowed us to get allies and allegiances from the different agencies that we never had before.
With TRPA, we were the first fire department (in 2006) to get a memorandum of understanding for removal of trees in our fire district, marking and removing trees, which was a TRPA responsibility for many, many years. Well that followed not only with our fire department, but every fire department in the basin. … And it’s the same with raking of pine needles; pine needles were always an issue. Prior to the Angora Fire, we made a stance here that we were going to remove our pine needles once a year, because the ability of them to carry fire, and TRPA was totally against that. After the Angora Fire, though, everything changed with the raking of pine needles.
Bonanza: Moving along, in 2004, the NLTFPD board expanded from three members to five. Do you feel adding that extra layer of government to the district was the correct move?
Brown: Oh yes. When we were a three-person board, we were very effective. But, you have to have quorum. And with three persons there, it was very difficult to continue the quorum process, even though our elected officials are very dedicated individuals — but they have illnesses, they have lives, they have things that take place. So the decision to go to a five-person board made sense, because it then allowed us to not only expand the board and expand the members who could participate for our community representation, but it also allowed us to have a different mindset when it came to ideas on where the district was at and where the district was going, so it was very beneficial.
Look to SierraSun.com next week, and to next week’s print edition of the Bonanza, for Part 2 of this interview, in which Chief Brown talks about the Angora Fire, managing change and challenges amid the Great Recession, and what’s on the horizon for the fire district. Visit http://www.nltfpd.net/about/history to read more about the entire history of the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.