The Milpitas Fire Department’s new Chief Brian Sherrard started work at his post on November 26, 2018, but from meeting him and speaking with him, one gets the impression that he’s been around here much longer. His intelligence, articulateness, clarity of vision, and earnestness about his job put him in the same category as our other community safety leaders, and no doubt contribute to Milpitas’ overall culture of respect for its fire and police departments.

Here are 10 things I learned from chatting with Sherrard…

 

1…He was very selective when seeking out work in Milpitas…

“I was in no hurry to move anywhere,” he explained. He did, however, wish to move back to California, where he grew up, from Oregon, where he’d relocated for college (at Pacific University). In Oregon, he’d been impressed with what he termed “progressive” fire departments, meaning they were “on the leading edge” in terms of technology, operations, equipment, and delivery of service — and he saw that Milpitas lived up to the same progressive standards. “The South Bay Area’s a great place to live,” he said. “And the City of Milpitas itself is a very diverse community, fast-growing, provides lots of opportunities…”

Likewise, at the City level, Sherrard encountered a dynamic and interested leadership team, which to him was very attractive. Add in the city’s strong support, from both its citizens and government, for public safety, and he couldn’t help but be drawn in. As a father of three grown children, all of whom are pursuing varying forms of higher education, he had the opening to relocate, and he took it.

“It’s been great,” he said. “Everyone’s been very welcoming. The community has been very endearing and welcoming to me…It’s a fast-growing and unique community. And what that does is it provides opportunities and challenges at the same time. And that’s very attractive — as a fire service leader, it’s imperative for you to be able to understand the unique characteristics of the community and evolve the fire department in ways that meet those changing needs…”

 

2…Fire departments are as engaged in fire prevention as they are in actual firefighting…

Fire prevention is a critical aspect of building any new structure, and the fire department is therefore present in one form or another from the infancy (i.e., application process) of a new building all the way through to its inspection and occupancy. 

Moreover, Sherrard stressed the importance of people engaging in emergency preparedness at the household level, from parents educating their children on fire prevention, to homeowners clearing their properties of dense vegetation and shrubbery, to people making sure their prescription medications and illnesses are written down and posted on the fridge in the event that emergency responders ever need to know that information. Chief Sherrard commented that the more prepared and educated people are, the less calls the Department gets, and the more time the Department has to go out and further people’s education and preparedness (which is not to say the Milpitas Fire Department isn’t always prepared to respond to emergencies firsthand, because they are).

 

3…Every emergency response from the Milpitas Fire Department is timed down to the last second…

The Milpitas Fire Department, like other departments around the state and country, is highly data-oriented and data-driven. For example, once a call comes in to 911, an actual clock begins to tick. First the call processing time (the amount of time from the 911 operator answering the call to it being patched through to the Fire Department) is measured. Next the turnout time (the amount of time from the bells going off at the Fire Station to the crews getting on their apparatuses) is measured. Then the response time (the amount of time from the firefighters leaving the station to reaching their destination) is measured. These three time frames, individually and collectively, assist the emergency responders in assessing and improving upon their pace of response. 

 

4…The Milpitas Fire Department has 69 employees…

Most of these 69 employees work in Operations, which involves firefighting and administrative support, but the rest work in Fire Prevention, which involves inspections and plan review on the building side.

 

5…Around 70% of the calls that come in to the Milpitas Fire Department are medical calls…

This is consistent with the rest of the country. These calls’ specific natures correspond with what time of day it is. Morning rush hour leads to more traffic accident calls. During the evening, when more people are at home, the Fire Department gets more outright medical calls. Likewise, in the early morning, people might call regarding medical symptoms they started having overnight.

As such, most daylight hours lead to more commercial-industrial stops, and stops along major travel routes. Come evening time, the stops tend to become more residential…

All firefighters, regardless of our image of them as men and women battling fires, come equipped with paramedic training. As Sherrard put it, “We bring the Emergency Room to your bedroom.” They have all the equipment and drugs required for medical emergencies.

For those wondering why firefighters meet this need when ambulance workers are commonly recognized for filling it, the explanation involves jurisdiction: Patient transport is controlled at the county level. Counties contract with ambulance companies to transport patients. So whereas firefighters are trained to provide medical assistance, they’re not officially tasked with taking patients to the hospital. 

Meanwhile, since firefighters are stationed on call at strategic locations around the city, they are often in a position to respond faster, and show up to initiate care and ensure patient stabilization before an ambulance handles transport.

 

6…The City of Milpitas has 4 fire stations…

…and they’re all staffed with firefighters who are ready to go, round the clock….

 

7…Fire Departments rely heavily on “Automatic Aid” aka “Mutual Aid”…

In other words, depending on the needs that arise in a given day, Milpitas firefighters might leave the city to go and help out elsewhere, and/or other firefighters might enter Milpitas to help out here. The ability of varying fire departments to overlap and interweave their services is a core, classic attribute of fire prevention.

 

8…Firefighting constitutes a small percentage of what the Milpitas Fire Department does…

Chief Sherrard described fires as being “low frequency, high risk, high potential impact to the community, higher devastation.” As such, firefighters are thoroughly trained and heavily prepared to deal with fires.

With that in mind, beyond medical and fire calls, a typical day in the life of a firefighter involves a wide variety of incidents, from false alarms to car accidents. “When people don’t know what to do, and they’ve run out of ideas or resources, they call 911,” Sherrard shared.

As such, fire and police departments fill the gap across many categories.

 

9…Growing up, Chief Sherrard always wanted to be a firefighter…

From a young age, he knew himself to be athletic. As such, he was drawn toward work that involved physical activity and was challenging. He described firefighting as “physical but cognitive”, meaning not only does it engage one’s strength, speed, fitness, and agility, it calls upon one’s ability to improvise and solve ever-changing problems. And since every single call is different, firefighters are never able to provide catch-all solutions, which helps to keep them sharp and on their toes.

 

10…Sherrard applies a vivid leadership philosophy to his work as Fire Chief…

“It’s open and honest communication that’s really the key,” he explained, adding that he relied upon the principles of inclusion and trust to keep his team motivated and engaged. 

Just the same, Sherrard made a point to frame the men and women of the Milpitas Fire Department as its driving force, while putting himself in the background as somebody who works to understand community needs, build a budget and organization, and provide his team with the tools they need to be successful on a daily basis. 

In closing, Sherrard offered these words: “I’m honored to be part of the community, and I look forward to getting to know the citizens and the leaders in the community, understanding their desires, and finding the ways that not only I but the Fire Department can continue to meet their needs, moving forward.”

Eric Shapiro
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. He is the author of six critically acclaimed fiction books, among them the novella "It's Only Temporary" (2005), which appeared on Nightmare Magazine's list of the Top 100 Horror Books, and numerous short stories published in anthologies alongside work by H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, and many others. His nonfiction articles have been published on The Daily Dot, Ravishly, and The Good Men Project. His first feature film, "Rule of 3" (2010), won awards at the Fantasia International Film Festival and Shriekfest, and had its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest. His second feature film, "Living Things" (2014), was endorsed by PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals) and distributed by Cinema Libre Studio. In 2015, he won the 19th Annual Fade In Award for Thriller Screenplays. He was a founding partner of Ghostwriters Central, a writing and editing firm which received positive notices from The Wall Street Journal, Consumers Digest, and the TV program "Intelligence For Your Life." Eric has edited works published on The Huffington Post and Forbes, as well as two Bram Stoker Award-nominated novels.

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