Steve Lieberman – Chief of Donner Summit
Steve Lieberman seems to enjoy juggling two careers, a feat that might exhaust the rest of us. He gives the impression that he’s lucky to be able to do both.
The morning I met with him, he was at his desk working as an attorney in matters of business and real estate with the Porter Simon law firm. From just past midnight until 4 a.m. that same morning, he had been tending a debris fire in Cisco Grove.
Some may know Lieberman as the long time Donner Summit fire chief, others may know him as a local attorney, and yet again, others may recognize him as “Dusty” Lieberman, the guy who rode a horse in the team penning event at the Truckee Championship Rodeo a few years back. The horse on which he was riding came to an abrupt stop, leaving Lieberman on the ground caked with dirt and dust. A good sport by nature, Lieberman has returned to participate in the annual rodeo event where he is always introduced to the crowd as “Dusty” Lieberman.
A 30-year resident of Serene Lakes on Donner Summit, Lieberman joined the Donner Summit Fire Department shortly after moving here. He has served as fire chief and assistant fire chief since 1979. Currently Lieberman is the fire chief. He also serves as safety officer for the Sierra Front Incident Management team which directs fire fighting crews, provides logistical support and coordinates public information for wild land fires that burn from Plumas County to Bishop.
When asked about the chance of a devastating fire coming to Truckee, Lieberman says, “You can predict that there will be a big fire that will go into subdivisions.” He adds, “There is a risk for homes on the periphery to burn, especially those who do not have defensible space.”
Lieberman tells me with a wry smile that he’s not an early bird, despite his middle-of-the-night fire duty. Further contradicting this statement, he tells me that he currently serves as president of the Truckee Sunrise Rotary which meets every week at 7 a.m. A fan of cowboy poetry, Lieberman often opens his Rotary meetings with a poem.
Lieberman obtained his undergraduate degree from Stanford and his law degree from Berkeley. Before graduating from law school he took a two year hiatus, serving in the Peace Corps. During his training Lieberman met his wife of 39 years, Tamara. Lieberman was sent to Niger to teach the Nigerians ox-drawn plowing, using his French which he speaks “pretty fluently.” Tamara was stationed in Senegal 3,000 miles away. They corresponded and managed to get together a few times while in Africa, and upon returning to the States, they married.
After practicing international business law for six years in Washington, D.C., the urban stress got to him. Lured by the idea of a move to the mountains, he and Tamara checked out Donner Summit which was “pretty quiet and sleepy back then.” Lieberman believes he arrived at the start of area growth and change. With a tendency toward dichotomies, he states that he is “resigned to and a supporter of well-planned growth.”
Most of us think of Donner Summit residents as the hardiest of souls, especially one who has lived up there for 30 years. Lieberman, who likes to downplay his successes, remarks that most people who live on the Summit as well as those in Truckee are healthy, outdoor-types.
When asked about his hobbies, Lieberman states emphatically that his family comes first, with one family activity in particular being white water rafting. Keeping fire-fighting in the family, Lieberman’s sons and one daughter-in-law all work as firefighters in Reno. His daughter Nicole lives in Truckee and holds a management position at Sugar Bowl. All three of his children attended Donner Trail School. Lieberman is also a grandfather to four with another on the way.
Lieberman enjoys “puttering,” currently remodeling his house and doing the electrical work himself. He likes working on things where he can see tangible results which is different from his work as a lawyer.
Lieberman’s self-deprecating humor comes out when asked to elaborate about his fondness for cooking. “I like to try to pretend to be fancy,” he tells me.
In 2004, Lieberman retired as a part-time professional ski patroller at Sugar Bowl where he liked the combination of being outside, skiing, catching a bit of adrenaline, and helping people. In recognition of his 25 years of service, he was given a lifetime pass.
The unassuming Lieberman always counters statements of pride with a qualifier, telling me that while he thinks of himself as pretty interesting, his colleague Jim Porter would say he’s quite boring. When asked about Lieberman, Porter replies, “Liebs is as good as they get. He is a little like the proverbial tortoise and the hare, Steve definitely being the tortoise. Slow and deliberate. But he is a smart Stanford tortoise. You want him as your lawyer.”
Donner Summit residents are fortunate that Lieberman is either their assistant or head fire chief, depending on the year. You want him as your fire chief too.