Deputy Chief Steve Vittum of the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. celebrated his retirement yesterday after fighting fires for 36 years, 31 of which were served in Santa Barbara.

Vittum worked as a part-time firefighter while still in college, during which he spent three of his summers as a smoke jumper in Montana and two more summers on a fire engine in Northern California. After five years, he joined the SB County Fire Dept. in 1974 to embark on his full-time career. He was promoted to engineer in 1975, and became a captain four years later. Vittum spent eight years as captain before becoming battalion chief in 1987. In 1993 he became division chief, and in January 2002 he was promoted to deputy chief — the position he has held for the final three years of his career.

Vittum said after spending the last 31 years with the SB County Fire Dept, there is much he will miss.

“I will miss the people I work with — the wonderful staff, the dedicated and loyal firefighters, as well as the support staff,” Vittum said. “Once past the professional friends and counterparts, I will miss the challenge, the different daily needs. Each day brings new challenges that make each day rewarding and interesting.”

He said the rewarding feeling he got from helping people is what made each day of work worthwhile.

“When you can see in someone’s face the relief and phenomenal gratitude of having received help… that is a very rewarding part of being a firefighter, because you get to go help and make a difference,” he said.

Vittum said although the more managerial positions of firefighting — such as deputy chief — do not involve as much rescue work, there are still rewarding moments.

“You get a reward at this level by making sure engine commanders were supplied, trained and ready to do their jobs,” he said.

Thomas Franklin, the current fire marshal for Santa Barbara, will be replacing Vittum. Vittum said he feels Franklin will make a good deputy chief.

“A skill he does well is to listen to staff,” Vittum said. “Listen to input, and with that input, he’s confident to make decisions and give direct reaction.”

Vittum said he knows Franklin will help the department move forward.

“It’s kind of hard to walk away,” Vittum said. “I am real pleased with leaving it in good hands.”

Carol Patrick, human resources manager for the SB County Fire Dept., said it will be difficult replacing Vittum.

“He is always open to other people’s ideas and opinions,” Patrick said. “He is not the kind of person who decides on something and that’s it. He takes input and has no problem going with other people’s ideas.”

Vittum said he is unsure if he will remain involved in fire service during his retirement.

“I am going to go on vacation for the first year, and then I’ll see if I get involved in fire services or emergency-related services,” he said.

Vittum said he and his wife will be moving from California to Colorado, where they will build a house and enjoy life in retirement.