took the second-degree burns on his
hand and leg as a lesson.But they didn't deter him from becoming one of the longest-serving members of the Angels Camp Fire Department
.Thirty-two years after suffering burns on his first day of fire training, Brown has worked just about every job the department has to offer , serving for the past 10 years as Angels Camp's fire marshal.
still remembers that 1975 exercise, which dealt with flammable liquids.
"At the time, we didn't have the safety equipment we have these days," Brown
said."The intent of (the exercise) was to build confidence."Brown
was directed to extinguish pipes pumped with burning fuel, placed in the middle of a pond.With a wet glove and a tear in his
learned the importance of quality safety equipment and good technique.
"I ended up with a second-degree burn on my leg and right hand, because it got a little too realistic," Brown
laughed."You know they don't do that kind of training anymore."
In three decades, Brown
has served three chiefs , and as chief, for 15 years starting in 1981.
has seen the original Bret Harte High School building , where he
attended classes , burn to the ground.As fire chief at the time, Brown
initiated the investigation that led to the conviction of two boys for arson in that 1994 case.
"It was actually the one I graduated from, so it was pretty emotional for me," Brown
said, recalling a number of disjointed fires that led to the loss of the building."We determined early on that it was arson."
With help from the state fire marshal, investigators concluded the boys used a shredded paper trail to lead the fire from one part of the building to the other.After being drafted in 1971, Brown served four years in the Air Force as a communications technician.
But that was not before graduating from a vocational school with a engineering license in broadcast electronics, with plans to become a country western radio DJ. Brown
in 1975 returned to Angels Camp, where he
was raised from the age of 10.After working briefly as a security guard at the Forest Meadows subdivision, Brown applied for six different jobs that an employment agency was working to fill.
By chance, Brown
ended up with the fire department.
"I wasn't pursuing a career in fire service," said Brown
.Brown thrived in his new position, soon earning an associate's degree in fire science at Columbia College and rising to engineer, captain and volunteer chief.He
later took part in the state fire marshal's certification program.Brown
is now in charge of inspections, investigations and fire safety and prevention education.
"I've been working in this building for 32 years," Brown
said at the Angels Camp Firehouse."I just hung around enough, I guess."
On top of training, Brown
said much of his
fire knowledge came with on-the-job experience.
"The practical stuff, the nuts and bolts kind of stuff," Brown
said."Besides the book learning, you get to know people and unique situations around town." He
remembers responding to medical calls before it became standard for fire departments to do so.
"I had a '47 Chevy half-ton pickup and an old Emmerson resuscitator," Brown
said."That's about all we had back then." Brown
did all the maintenance on the vehicle, which the city bought for a hose truck in 1946.Brown
has watched the department go from an all-volunteer staff until the department began employing several full-time paid staff, and put volunteers on paid call last year.Brown
said most fires he
investigates are structures, due to the losses involved, but remembers one of his
first forest fire calls, the massive 1987 Stanislaus Complex Fire.
"(Forest) fire behavior is really different," Brown said."Forest fire can move through the same area several times.It's much more spectacular when you have trees 150 feet (tall) and flame heights of 300 feet."Outside of the department, Brown is a lector at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, and often performs the Eucharist.He
hopes to begin ministering to inmates at Vallecito Conservation Camp.
"It is an established ministry," said Brown
, who has contact with the inmates when they assist the fire department."The problem is they don't have enough people to provide for the spiritual needs of the inmates."Brown
also helped found Calaveras Foothills Fire Safe Council, which works to minimize potential wildfire damage in the county.Brown is currently president of the group.
, the council has developed door-to-door wood chipping services, city road clearing, and lot clearing for senior citizens and disabled persons to prevent fires.
For now, Brown
intends to stay put, though he
planned to retire this year.Now, he
says, he'll keep his
job another year or so.
"But I said that last year, too," he
does retire, he
wants to "find another job, just stay busy," working on projects on his
property in Angels Camp.Looking back, he feels lucky to have worked in fire service.
"It's very rewarding, and I don't think that I would have done anything differently if I had it to do over," he