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With a long history of serving in the fire service that ultimately led him to become Chief of the Golder Ranch Fire District, Tom Brandhuber says that “you always miss being on the trucks and answering service calls.”
Today Chief Brandhuber is focused on the whole organization, the community that he serves, and his life-long commitment to public service.
Chief Brandhuber began his paramedic and firefighting career in 1989. After completing his fire science degree, he worked in the Air Force Reserve and Rural/Metro Fire Department.
Brandhuber joined Golder Ranch almost ten years ago, starting as assistant chief of operations, then as assistant chief of essential services. The two roles gave him a broad understanding of what it takes to run the District effectively.
The Golder Ranch District comprises 244 square miles, 10 fire stations, and 296 employees.
Becoming a firefighter requires 12-21 weeks of training, after which the provisional firefighter works for a year while being constantly tested and evaluated.
He says “we’re all firefighters – basic EMTs and above. We all carry the same equipment. Whenever we get a call, we respond.”
Chief Brandhuber says that the majority of the Golder Ranch firefighters come from the local area. He says it’s important that kids see the shiny fire trucks out there. Some of these kids will be tomorrow’s Golder Ranch firefighters.
For additional information about becoming a Golder Ranch Firefighter, see How to Become a Golder Ranch Firefighter.
The fire truck crew consists of four personnel, including at least one trained paramedic.
While the job is essentially the same as it has always been, it also continues to evolve. For example, response teams now carry Narcan for opioid overdoses. The new drug fentanyl is so powerful that first-responders are at risk of an overdose just from accidental exposure. So, teams carry Narcan for both overdose patients as well as the response team.
Chief Brandhuber notes that the Golder Ranch Fire District has less responses to unsheltered/transient individuals than other departments.
The Golder Ranch District includes ten separate stations. On any given day at one of these stations, the trucks might respond to ten calls. That’s over 100 calls per day across the district.
Despite what some might believe, not all fire department calls are for fires. Often, fire departments respond to non-emergency situations, such as when an elderly person has fallen and cannot get up.
Or, they might be called because of snakes. The Golder Ranch Fire District recently posted on its Twitter account that it had removed ten rattlesnakes from the garden of a local resident.
While water is an issue in the desert, the Golder Ranch Fire District has enough water to supply its operations in developed areas.
The one place that water can become an issue is in outlying rural areas. Trucks called water tenders can carry up to 5000 gallons of water. Fortunately, calls from these rural areas only come in about once a quarter.
The water tenders are also on-call in case there are problems with fire hydrants, or in the case of wildland fires.
In most Arizona fire departments, firefighters are trained to the basic level in wildland fire response in the city. They receive additional training in wildland forest fires at Golder Ranch. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group sets minimum training, experience, and physical fitness standards for wildland firefighting.
Most of the Golder Ranch firefighters carry a “red card”, which establishes that they are trained for wildland fires. Chief Brandhuber notes that this is important in the Golder Ranch District, where there is an interface between the wild and built areas.
The Chief explains that arson is not common in the district. Most fires are accidental. Sometimes they are caused by kids playing with fire.
The biggest fire in recent history was the Bighorn Fire two years ago. There have also been commercial fires in the southern area of the district.
The Golder Ranch Fire District maintains a “regional automatic aid system” with the Tucson Fire Department and Northwest Fire District.
When you call 911, they will send the closest, most appropriate unit – regardless of which jurisdiction the call comes from. (This is an “automatic aid” model, which is a higher level of interconnectivity than a “mutual aid” model.)
Under his leadership, the district has continued several community programs aimed at enhancing public safety awareness, providing CPR training, and offering resources for disaster preparedness.
The Chief explains that the Golder Ranch Fire District is a non-political government entity. It is a special taxing authority based on geographic area. There is a 5-member governing board with resident-representatives from the area. Chief Brandhuber answers directly to the governing board.
As a member of the 10th Air Force, the Chief completed one tour in Iraq. In 2010, as a member of the Air Force Reserves, he served as the fire chief of the Kirkuk Regional Air Base in Iraq during the Iraq War.
What does the future hold for firefighting in OV?
Chief Brandhuber says that drones and improvements in AI will help firefighting. He says that community risk reduction remains the area of biggest growth. This includes building new construction in ways that minimize fire risk.
Drones have proven indispensable in various fire service aspects nationwide, and local beta tests have worked great on several Golder Ranch Fire District emergency scenes. We are excited to continue the development of Small Unmanned Aerial Systems for operational use.
At the formal Change of Command ceremony in March 2023, Chief Brandhuber was awarded the special white helmet for the position of fire chief. He explains that this symbolic helmet was used so that fire crews are able to visually locate the chief at a big fire. Randy Karrer, who served as chief for 42 years, passed on the white helmet to Chief Brandhuber at the ceremony.
Chief Brandhuber is the President of the Arizona Ambulance Association.
By Tom Ekman, J.D., M.Ed