.Zayante Fire Chief Retires After Nearly Three Decades with District

After more than 27 years of service to the Zayante Fire Protection District, John Stipes hung up his white helmet for the final time on July 23. 

Stipes, 59, joined Zayante Fire in 1994 as a volunteer firefighter. He retires with the longest current tenure of any Santa Cruz County fire chief. 

“It’s been an honor to serve the community I live in. Not a lot of firefighters get to do that their whole careers,” Stipes said in a press release. “I’ve been able to see Zayante (Fire) evolve into an all-risk  department capable of handling a lot more than just fire.” 

Stipes was promoted to lieutenant in 1996. The following year he earned Firefighter of the Year honors and was promoted to the rank of captain. In December 1999, Stipes was promoted to battalion chief—a position he held for 10 years—before assuming the role of fire chief in 2010.  Stipes also served as a strike team leader, fighting dozens of major fires around California beginning in 2004. 

Stipes was a member of the Zayante Firefighters Association, the Santa Cruz County Fire Chiefs Association, the San Lorenzo Valley Fire District, the Fire Chiefs Operations Section, the Santa Cruz County Fire Agency Insurance Group and the Santa Cruz County Treasury Oversight Commission. In 2017, Stipes oversaw the passage of Measure O, which allowed Zayante Fire to staff the district Monday-Friday. 

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Zayante Fire has more than doubled the number of incidents to which it responds since 1994,  Stipes said. Today, its firefighters are trained to handle a wide range of calls, including medical, auto extrication, propane leak, wires down, rope rescue, vehicle fire and hazardous materials incidents.  

“Covid-19 and the CZU fires were difficult, but the biggest challenge as a chief has been keeping and motivating a volunteer fire service. You’re asking a lot of these people,” said Stipes. 

Despite the difficulties, Stipes said he’s grateful for the people he worked with over the years.

“Quite an adventure,” he said. 

ZFPD board chair Mary Clark lauded Stipes. 

“By selflessly and earnestly showing up whenever duty calls, he has earned a reputation as a great leader, teacher, and friend,” she said.

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