CHICO – Cal Fire-Butte County, the lead agency for camp firefighting for 2018, has named a new unit chief.
Garret Sjolund was named Cal Fire-Butte County Fire Chief on March 2, a position that oversees 22 fire stations, 400 salaried firefighters, 150 volunteers and numerous Cal Fire programs.
As Unit Chief, Sjolund will assume the position of Fire Chief for Butte County; the towns of Briggs and Gridley; and the City of Paradise Fire Department.
Sjolund began his career in fire safety straight out of high school. Originally from Manchester, California, Sjolund moved to Richvale at age 18 to pursue a degree in fire science at Butte College.
The Butte County Fire Department hired him in 1995 to be a “sleeper firefighter” as part of a college program that filled the job after the school day ended. A year later, in 1996, Sjolund was hired part-time in County Cal Fire-Butte as he continued his education.
Since then, Sjolund has spent the vast majority of his Butte County career working in the fire department, helicopter fire crew, spotter aircraft crew, and in administration. He has been part of educational executives, work groups, program development and spent five years as a member of Cal’s fire incident team.
“County has always been unique in that it’s a very busy place to work and that’s what made me stay here in (Butte County) as a young firefighter,” Sjolund said. . “That hasn’t changed as I’ve worked my way up. … It’s a dynamic place to work.
Sjolund said his parents pushed him to work hard, building his foundation of camaraderie by playing sports and working at his parents’ grocery store.
“Growing up in a rural community, there was always something going on. Those foundations of kind of sport and camaraderie, and kind of a hard load when you need it,” Sjolund said. “That kind of mentality probably helped me orient myself towards firefighting at the time.”
Sjolund said the first time he felt proud of his work as a team leader was when he was promoted to engineer at Durham Fire Station.
“It was probably a 3-year period there where I had great camaraderie and worked with people who are still in the fire service today,” Sjolund said. “It was the first time in my career where I look back and say that was one of the most fun points.”
His other big breakthrough in teamwork came when he had the opportunity to work on Cal Fire’s Vina helitack program as captain in 2005.
“You jump out of the helicopter with six other firefighters and it’s just you and what you pack to get through the rest of the day,” Sjolund said. “There’s no walking back to a fire truck or anything, so I learned a lot about fire behavior, mutual trust and teamwork to meet the challenges ahead. .
Now as fire chief, Sjolund said he will strive to understand the needs of the community, the needs of his fire crews, including mental health, and the needs of other community cooperators.
“When we look at the Butte unit, they’ve always been very progressive and aggressive in moving forward with the fire department; equipment changes and technique changes,” Sjolund said. “And so I very much embrace the innovation of our members of all ranks and our administrative staff to find new ways to adapt to and build on these.”
Sjolund said Cal County Fire-Butte will continue to fight fires with the same aggressiveness it does now and sees opportunities for improvement to engage in local fire safety councils and programs focused on the community dealing with fuel reduction and hardening at home.
“Because we’ve had a series of incidents like this since 2017 since the dam broke until now, we haven’t had a lot of time to step back and look and regroup and really go into what is our next direction,” Sjolund said. . “And I think that’s the opportunity I’m hoping for.”
As Sjolund steps into his new position, he said he hopes to create a new vision for the future of Cal Fire-Butte County that will last for the next 20 years.
“I feel very humbled and honored to be in this position, you know, I still feel like I’m at Richvale Fire Station as a firefighter; it’s the youthful mindset in me,” Sjolund said. “I’m so honored to have risen through the ranks, all the ranks, here in Butte County to fill the position I hold now.”