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By Paul Kruze

July 13, 2012 (Spring Valley)--By a unanimous vote by the board of the San Miguel Fire District (SMFD) and a badge pinned on his chest, then sealed with a kiss by his wife, former Division Chief Gary D. Croucher was installed as the District’s newest fire chief on Wednesday evening at the board meeting.

View a video clip of the appointment:

Croucher was appointed interim fire chief after former SMFD Fire Chief, August “Augie” Ghio Augie Ghio, was severely injured in mid-May when he crashed his Harley Davidson on Route 78 near Ocotillo Wells days before he was set to retire.

The SMFD fire board at the meeting voted a $10,000 stipend to Ghio to aid in Croucher’s transition.  Ghio has been released from the hospital and continues his recovery at home. 

Croucher said that negotiations for Cal Fire to take over direct emergency response for the District will continue with the goal of service commencing on January 1.

“We are working towards making the transition to CalFire as transparent as possible,” said Croucher. He continued to say that outsourcing fire services to Cal Fire will help the San Miguel Fire District take control of a $2.4 million dollar budget deficit.

During his short term as interim Fire Chief, Croucher restored full staffing of the Dehesa fire station.

At the meeting, which was attended by some two dozen local residents, in accepting the position, Croucher said, in part, “I hope to make you proud.”

Before the board took a formal vote to appoint Croucher as Fire Chief, board member Chris Winter said, “(Interim Fire Chief Croucher) has the full confidence of labor and the board of directors.”  Board Member Chris Brainard attempted to attend Wednesday’s executive and public sessions telephonically, but his participation was limited because he was out of the area and experienced interrupted cell phone coverage.

Chief Croucher is a 26-year veteran of fire service who started his career at age 14 as a Fire Explorer with the Orange County Fire Department. He formally began his career in East County when he was hired by the California Department of Forestry (CDF, which later became Cal Fire) in 1986 as a Firefighter II. 

In 1988 when the CDF Schedule “A” contract consolidated with the Spring Valley Fire Department, forming the San Miguel Consolidated Fire Protection District, Croucher worked his way up in all ranks, from Firefighter, Engineer, Captain, Battalion Chief and Division Chief.  Croucher  lives within the District with his wife and two children.

He is also an elected board member and Treasurer of the Otay Water District, which has sparked controversy at times, including a recent Board decision to offer lifetime pensions to its employees. 

In the San Miguel Fire District, which has been divided by bitter labor-management relations amid a rising budget deficit in today’s era of shrinking revenues, Croucher’s appointment drew rare praise from both labor and management. 

He has also heeded public concerns over fire safety in one of his first acts while Interim Chief, moving to restore services at the recently closed Dehesa station.


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