TCFD History

Tulare County Fire Department History

The Tulare County Fire Department is a fairly new department, as far as full-service fire departments go. The department as it exists today, was created and started operations on July 1, 2007. Prior to that date, the County of Tulare received fire protection services from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) through a service contract. Under that agreement, the local CDF Unit served two functions; first, they fulfilled their contractual obligation as the Tulare County Fire Department by providing fire protection and other emergency services to the all county areas outside of incorporated cities, with the exception of the City of Exeter, and secondly, they carried out all other CDF programs in the county that related to their responsibility as a state wildland fire agency. The result was a county fire department staffed by state employees and whose budget was directly related to salary increases negotiated by the CDF Firefighters, Bargaining Unit 8.  

On December 20, 2005, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors decided to terminate their fire protection contract with CDF after 78 years of contractual service. The contract termination date was set for July 1, 2007. At the same time, the Board decided to create a county fire department, staffed by county employees and responsive to the direction set by the board of supervisors.

In February of 2006, Steve Sunderland was hired as the Fire Chief of the new Tulare County Fire Department. He immediately proceeded to hire his executive team to help him set in place the necessary elements that would allow for a smooth transition from CDF to a County Fire Department by July 1, 2007. He hired three Division Chiefs; Ted Mendoza for Operations, John Crivello for Training and Joe Garcia for Fire Prevention. Their collective experience, as well as assistance from various county administrative staff and other county departments allowed them to plan effectively and set in motion all organizational aspects necessary for a fully-operational fire department by the transition date. The cooperative attitude of CDF also played a large part in the success of this project. Unit Chief Ed Wristen was asked to come out of retirement to represent CDF in this transitional project.

A kick-off ceremony was held on June 29, 2007 with nationally recognized fire service leader, Ronny Coleman, being the guest speaker. July 1, 2007 was a new day and the birth day for the new Tulare County Fire Department.

Steve Sunderland retired August 13, 2011 after 5½ years of service as the Department’s first Fire Chief. Joe Garcia was appointed by the Tulare County Board of Supervisors on October 23, 2011 and served proudly until January 9, 2016.  On this date, Chief Charlie Norman was given role of leading the Tulare County Fire Department and is the current Fire Chief.