Last official day on the job for Grass Valley fire chief
Wednesday is Grass Valley Fire Chief Tony Clarabut’s last official day on the municipal payroll, after five years in that part-time chief position, on top of a quarter century of fighting fires in Nevada County.
“I think Tony’s done a great job,” said Mayor Dan Miller. “He brought some new knowledge and professionalism to the department that has really benefited its training (programs) and morale.”
But Clarabut won’t be going very far. While Grass Valley’s leaders look to hire his replacement, he’ll be sticking around as a volunteer fire chief until mid-August, he said.
When Clarabut isn’t around, Battalion Chief Mark Buttron will function as the department’s administrator, which isn’t anything new, the transitioning chief said.
“We’re slowly entertaining the thought of hiring a chief,” Miller said.
“There are some things going on that I can’t talk about because they were done in closed session,” Miller said, noting that developments are expected in coming weeks.
Clarabut said the process could take three to four weeks.
Clarabut’s departure from Grass Valley comes as the state’s employee pension program cracks down on municipalities staffing their public safety department leadership positions with part-time retirees, which both Grass Valley and Nevada City had done to save on benefit contribution costs during the recession.
Nevada City is amid a similar transition with interim Police Chief Jim Wickham, replacing him a full year ahead of the city’s projections for its budget’s ability to fund a full-time chief.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for (Clarabut),” said Nevada City Manager David Brennan. “I’m sorry to see him go — it’s a great loss to Grass Valley. It’s unfortunate that the city is forced to do what they were probably going to do anyway, but earlier than they wanted.”
Clarabut moved to Nevada County in 1983 and worked for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection for 35 years before his 2006 retirement. At that time, he was a unit chief for Nevada, Placer and Yuba counties.
After his first retirement, he returned to firefighting for 15 months as the fire chief in Ukiah.
It wasn’t long after that role that he again answered a call for help. This time he joined Grass Valley in what was thought to be an interim capacity in 2008 to replace Jim Marquis, who resigned to take a position as a battalion chief in Washoe County, Nev.
Clarabut’s hiring in Grass Valley came amid efforts to form a shared administrative agreement with Nevada County Consolidated Fire District and Nevada City Fire Department.
“We deliver services as one entity,” Clarabut said. “The way the three agencies’ firefighters serve the community is a testament to their commitment.”
While that shared administrative agreement never materialized for various reasons, the three firefighting agencies’ Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) has matured during Clarabut’s tenure, government leaders said.
“Tony’s knowledge of the area was of great value,” Grass Valley City Manager Dan Holler said in an email to The Union. “His commitment to working with our partners and the JOA is seen in the effectiveness of the joint operations. He accomplished much more than expected. He was truly a joy to work with.”
Indicative of his commitment to fire safety in the area, Clarabut’s slowed exit from Grass Valley is aimed at allowing him to finish three endeavors before he finally relinquishes his responsibilities.
One of them is finishing a unified JOA between the three agencies instead of each having a separate JOA with the other two agencies.
“If anyone could put that together, it’s Tony,” Brennan said. “People have a lot faith in what he is putting together (will be) something we can work with.”
Clarabut also aims to make use of new revenue from a voter-approved sales tax hike to add firefighters to the department and purchase a fire engine before he leaves, he said.
“That finishes it off,” Clarabut said.
Whether Clarabut’s replacement will be a full-time employee remains to be seen, but Brennan said there have been no serious talks between Nevada City and Grass Valley about a shared administrative agreement.
“Tony did an excellent job for the city,” Holler said. “He provided a professional and enjoyable perspective to the job.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4236.
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