While responding to an apartment fire on Mill Street more than a month ago, Grass Valley’s interim fire chief, Mark Buttron, found himself in a supervisory position, watching from the outside as his crews fought the fire.
It was a brand new view after more than two decades of fighting fires “in the thick of it,” he said.
“Just to watch the workings and orders given … before you know it, things are done,” Buttron said. “When I sat back and watched it, I found myself saying, ‘That’s impressive.’”
Buttron stepped in as interim fire chief at the end of July when Tony Clarabut retired. Since then, he has viewed his tenure at the helm of the department as a chance to see firefighting from a new perspective.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to get exposed to things,” Buttron said. “It’s been an eye-opener.”
At the Oct. 8 meeting of the Grass Valley City Council, Buttron’s interim position was extended until Jan. 15, to defer the hiring of a regular fire chief until the city hires a new city manager. Former city administrator Dan Holler resigned suddenly at the end of August and the city subsequently switched to a city manager form of governance.
Interim City Manager Jeff Foltz explained that the city wishes to allow its yet-to-be hired city manager to bring in his or her own department leaders for currently vacant positions.
“My goal is not to really change anything in particular, but to keep the wheels on it,” Buttron said. “Just guidance for the time being. Moving forward with some of the things in place when Chief Clarabut left.”
Those endeavors include crafting a department budget and overseeing staffing changes that include new hires and promotions.
“That can only help me help the new fire chief help the agency,” Buttron said. “I look at it as a great opportunity. I don’t think it’s one many people get.”
Some of those new hires were funded by Measure N, a voter-approved sales tax increase for public safety and road service needs. Buttron is also finalizing the purchase of a several-hundred-thousand-dollar fire engine, the department’s first since 2003, he said.
“Our engines are fairly busy and are showing their wear, to say the least,” he said.
Buttron has no intention of applying for the regular fire chief position. When the city hires one, Buttron will revert back to his battalion chief position.
Until then, he will be paid $52.37 per hour as the interim chief, a compensation described as “the bottom step of the fire chief salary range” in city documents.
He has a family history of fighting fires. Despite his father’s work as a volunteer firefighter and his uncle’s as a fully fledged firefighting career, Buttron didn’t set out to fight fires himself, initially.
Buttron, who is from Lemon Grove, just outside San Diego, was an avid surfer in high school.
“My boards are at my parents’ house,” he said. “I always say I’m going to go whenever I visit them, but it never seems to work out that way.”
After graduating from high school in 1988, Buttron hung drywall at commercial construction sites before becoming a firefighter.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until after high school,” he said.
His first firefighting job was for a small San Diego County fire department before making his way to Coalinga. Shortly after the turn of the century, Grass Valley’s fire chief at the time — current county Supervisor Hank Weston — hired Buttron as an engineer, a step down from his captain position in Coalinga.
Buttron lives in Yuba City with his wife, Lisa, and their 15-year-old son.
“This is a great area,” he said. “The fire service up here is exceptional. People go above and beyond on a routine basis.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
“My goal is not to really change anything in particular, but to keep the wheels on it.”
Grass Valley’s interim fire chief