Fire chief’s legacy to live on
by Peter Burke
Apr 05, 2012 | 2476 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mike McMurry at his former desk at the Scotts Valley Fire Protection District. Lucjan Szewczyk/Press-Banner file photo
Mike McMurry at his former desk at the Scotts Valley Fire Protection District. Lucjan Szewczyk/Press-Banner file photo
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Scotts Valley Fire Chief Mike McMurry accepts a proclamation from fire board member Jane Armstrong. Other board members pictured include (left to right), Art Smith, Rudy Cabigas, McMurry, Armstrong, Alan Smith and Joshua Warren. Courtesy of Rudy Cabigas
Scotts Valley Fire Chief Mike McMurry accepts a proclamation from fire board member Jane Armstrong. Other board members pictured include (left to right), Art Smith, Rudy Cabigas, McMurry, Armstrong, Alan Smith and Joshua Warren. Courtesy of Rudy Cabigas
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Scotts Valley Fire Chief Mike McMurry retired from his post last week — and even local fire chiefs had a hard time pinning him down for a celebration.

McMurry, 53, became a full-time firefighter in Scotts Valley in 1980. He moved steadily up the ranks and became chief in 1996, where he has served since.

Even though he was chief of 27 staff members and 15 paid-call firefighters, his impact was felt throughout the state.

McMurry was honored at the Scotts Valley Fire Protection District board of directors meeting with five proclamations on March 14, his last official meeting as chief.

Scotts Valley City Councilman Jim Reed delivered a proclamation from the City Council, saying “Any city 10 times, 20 times our size would be honored to have leaders of this caliber.”

Assemblymen Bill Monning and Sam Blakeslee issued a joint proclamation honoring McMurry, followed by a proclamation from the Scotts Valley Water District board, one from County Supervisors Mark Stone and John Leopold and another from the Scotts Valley Fire Protection District honoring his work in the district.

District counsel Phillip Passafuime commented on McMurry’s leadership.

“I very much enjoyed working with Chief McMurry over the years,” Passafiume said. “He is a problem-solver. He is able to turn on a dime, roll up his sleeves and solve a problem.”

McMurry’s leadership will be missed, according to Central Fire Chief Jeff Maxwell, who’s known McMurry since the early 1990s.

“He’s been very influential in emergency preparedness, hazmat, paramedics, Proposition 172 funding, so many areas,” Maxwell said. “He’s a mentor to almost all of us. He sets the bar to what we hope to achieve.”

Accomplishments

**McMurry was instrumental in forming a countywide hazardous materials team now hosted by Scotts Valley Fire Protection District. The department had its own small team in the 80s and 90s to handle chemical situations, but when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks happened, he perceived a greater need. 

“Nine-11 made it clear there was a need for that kind of response,” McMurry said.

McMurry brought the fire chiefs together, along with the county, various cities and other stakeholders and agreed on a way to organize, manage and administer the team.

Federal grants provided money for equipment, and there are currently 29 firefighters on the team countywide. Scotts Valley Battalion Chief Tim Theilan is the team’s training officer.

They respond to events such as overturned gas tankers and ammonia leaks.

**McMurry has led the way to implement paramedic training for many fire districts in Santa Cruz County. Firefighters in Scotts Valley and six other departments are able to administer medicine in the same way a paramedic can, often speeding up care to victims.

“As a firefighter, I went out to an asthma attack and the girl died (because we couldn’t administer medication),” McMurry said. “I wanted to allow for the tools and training.”

After being accredited by the state and the county, the program was implemented by the county in 2003. Under the supervision of a county doctor, an emergency services coordinator maintains the level of training needed.

“None of us could afford to do this on our own,” McMurry said.

**McMurry served as a zone director on the Fire District Association of California for several years.

About seven years ago, many districts were facing rising insurance costs. McMurry determined it would be advantageous for districts to get together and form an insurance pool to lower costs. According to records, the 41 districts that participated saved $2 million, collectively.

McMurry also became someone locals turned to when it comes to digesting new legislation and informing fire districts of how it would effect their operations.

Finally, he was a part of developing education modules for incoming fire chiefs that helps them get up to speed.

“I discovered early you needed help,” McMurry said. “There wasn’t really a ‘how-to.’ College is good, but it’s not nuts and bolts.”

McMurry said he plans to stay in Scotts Valley and continue with the Rotary Club, the organization he served as president in 2008.

He and his wife of 32 years, Mary, have a 28 year-old daughter who works at the University of California, Davis, and a 19-year-old son who attends the University of Oregon. His wife’s parents still live in Scotts Valley.

“I’m always proud of the people we have working here,” McMurry said. “They’ll stand up well against fire personnel everywhere.”

Chief Dan Grebil has taken McMurry’s place as chief in Scotts Valley. Grebil said they will be big shoes to fill.

“(McMurry) is one of those few leaders in this county,” said Chief Maxwell. “We’re losing years of institutional wisdom.”

McMurry has known Grebil for years and gives him a vote of confidence.

“He’s a nice guy, and he’ll get along with everybody,” McMurry said. “I have complete confidence that he will do a great job.”
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