Leaving difficult for chief | TheUnion.com

Leaving difficult for chief

Uncertain if he’ll adjust to a life of leisure after 35 years of dedicated fire service, 52-year-old fire chief Tony Clarabut reluctantly signed his retirement papers last Friday.

“I’m not really going anywhere yet,” said the Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit Chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection on Thursday. “I have a few projects I want to work on.”

He’s not entirely sure if he’s going to enjoy retirement, something most relish.

“I’ve got some separation anxiety,” he said, sitting in an old, worn office chair inside the Nevada City CDF station on Ridge Road. “I’ve done this since I was 17 years old and I’ve got mixed emotions. This is what I do and who I am.”

Clarabut decided he wanted to be a firefighter when was home one summer from Chico State, where he studied as a math major. He joined a fire crew for a summer job.

“Two weeks into it I decided this was it,” he said. “I changed my major to forestry and transferred to Humboldt State.”

He moved to Nevada County from the Mendocino Coast in 1983 and worked his way up from battalion chief to division chief in 1996, then unit chief in 2001.

“It was almost like a 24-hour job,” said Peter Brost, Public Services Staff Officer for the Tahoe National Forest. Brost has worked with Clarabut on joint fire protection projects for several years. “He had to go to meetings day and night.”

His wife, Susan Clarabut, the Nevada County School District assistant superintendent responsible for special education, anticipates seeing her husband much more often.

“Maybe now when I get home, he’ll be there,” she said. “He’s a dedicated CDF employee and his heart is in some of these projects. It’s hard for him to leave, but I look forward to not washing those uniforms.”

The couple has two children together, Allison, 24, a teacher at Pleasant Ridge Elementary School; and Alex, 20, a mechanical engineering student in his junior year at Cal-Poly, San Luis Obispo.

“We’d like to be able to get down to San Luis Obispo more often,” Susan said. Clarabut does look forward to spending more time with his family. “I’m very proud of them,” he said.

Administrative Chief Gary Brittner will now serve as interim unit chief until the CDF regional chief in Redding appoints a successor.

Clarabut will miss the sense of camaraderie and accomplishment that, he said, only a career in public safety can provide.

“People are usually pleased to see us and are grateful for the work that we do,” he said. “Firefighters and police officers tend to have passion about their work, and usually stay for their entire careers.”

Brost said the fire protection is losing an unusually dedicated leader.

“(Clarabut) has always dealt with all the groups very honestly and with a lot of integrity,” he said. “He knows how to work through bureaucratic barriers and got things done. He took his job very seriously.”

Clarabut said he will work as a consultant for CDF, possibly until completion of the Nevada County Fire Plan.

To contact staff writer Robyn Moormeister, e-mail robynm@theunion.com or call 477-4236.

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