After serving as the Santa Barbara County Fire Chief for nine years, John Scherrei has announced his plans to retire from the department early next year.

Scherrei, who was appointed Chief on Oct. 4, 1999, had the harrowing job of presiding over the Fire Dept. during the 2007 Zaca Fire – the second largest wildfire ever recorded in California – and this summer’s Gap Fire, which burned uncomfortably close to Goleta. His retirement will be effective as of January 23, 2009.

The Fire Dept., in association will the County Human Resources Dept., will develop a national recruitment plan to fill the position. In the meantime, Deputy Fire Chief Tom Franklin will serve as Interim Chief.

Scherrei, in a statement, said he was proud of the Fire Dept. and its work in the Santa Barbara community during his time as Chief.

“It has been a true honor for me to serve as Chief of the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept.,” he said. “We’ve been through some amazing times, and the expectations and demands upon the fire service community have never been greater. The County Fire Department has been family to me. I am proud of every member of this department and their dedication to our profession.”

In a statement issued by the Fire Dept., County Executive Officer Michael Brown said that Scherrei has made significant contributions to the department over the years.

“Chief Scherrei has served with distinction here in Santa Barbara County and throughout his entire career,” Brown said. “He has advanced the state of fire response and all-hazard emergency response in the County and our residents, businesses and visitors have benefited from his leadership and duty to serve.”

As chief, Scherrei’s contributions included adding paramedics to the department’s engine companies and creating two brush clearing crews. Additionally, he acquired the County’s first high-rise tower ladder truck.

Scherrei helped create the County’s first memorial event for 9/11, and he has also worked with citizens to form the Firefighter Alliance to help the department obtain urgent tools and equipment. Furthermore, he helped to establish the Benevolent Association – a charity designed to assist firefighters and their families at times of personal loss and tragedy.

Prior to joining the Santa Barbara Fire Dept., Scherrei worked for the Los Angeles Fire Dept. for 28 years and held positions ranging from firefighter to assistant chief.

Interim Chief Franklin, who received a bachelor’s degree in geography from UCSB, joined the Fire Dept. in 1977 and became Deputy Fire Chief in February 2005. In a statement, Franklin said he was privileged to work with Chief Scherrei.

“It has been an honor to serve with Chief Scherrei, and I know I speak on behalf of the entire department when we all wish him and his wife Piper the best during his well-deserved retirement.”