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'I'm happy they have confidence in me.' : New Chief, 34, a Whiz Kid at Fire Business

January 07, 1987|JIM WALTERS | Walters is a Times copy editor

You'll have to forgive Anaheim Fire Chief Jeff Bowman for doting over one of the department's new engines like a proud, young father, but it really is his baby.

Bowman, 34, is the youngest fire chief in Orange County--one of the youngest of any major city in the country, in fact. And the revolutionary rear-engine truck, which has been in the Broadway station just a few weeks longer than Bowman has occupied the chief's office, is partly the product of his design.

While the rest of the department is getting familiar with the five new trucks, Bowman is settling into his $67,744-a-year post. The 13-year veteran reached the top rung of the departmental hook and ladder Dec. 10.

"I've just been in the right place at the right time," he said. "Some people have said, 'You can't have a 34-year-old fire chief.' But what I lack in experience, I have a broad background, the desire to do a good job and the motivation to do it."

Bowman said it was a "bold move" by City Manager William O. Talley and the City Council to have named him chief now, instead of grooming him for the position with a more seasoned firefighter at the helm for a few years. "I'm happy they have confidence in me."

Bowman has more than shown his "maturity and credibility with the department," Tally said. "His willingness to take intelligent risks as in the development of the new pumper is one example."

Gary Wilder, president of Anaheim Firefighters' Assn. Local 2899, said Bowman is well versed on the department's labor relations with the city. "The outstanding thing about Jeff is his progressive outlook," Wilder said. "When labor relations come to a standstill, he always seems to come up with an outlook both sides should look at."

And, said Wilder, Bowman knows the lay of the land better than, say, someone from an East Coast city. "We deal with suburban and hillside firefighting, not high-rises," Wilder said. "That's a whole different way of firefighting."

Truck Attracting Interest

Besides staying up-to-date with the 233 employees of his department and preparing a budget for next fiscal year (this year's totals $16 million), Bowman still finds time to field questions from fire departments around the nation about the new pumpers. Bowman and representatives from other fire departments collaborated on the design for the Hush pumper, which is manufactured by Emergency One Inc. of Ocala, Fla.

"Diesel engines are real noisemakers and traditionally are right behind the driver," he said. Add sirens and air horns to that and the captain in the front passenger seat can't communicate effectively with the crew or hear the radio.

The $192,000 trucks cost about $18,000 more than traditional engines, Bowman said, but cities should save money in the long run. "Guys who are retiring all around the country are filing claims against cities over hearing loss," he said.

Deputy City Atty. Anthony G. Stashik said Anaheim has had three to five such cases within the past two years. "These were firefighters who were in the department for 20 years or so, and hearing loss was one of things they listed in their multi-disability claims," he said. Hearing loss, he said, amounts to 5% to 15% of the payment in those disability cases, or about $7,000 per case annually.

Noise in the new trucks at 35 m.p.h. has been measured at 67 decibels, contrasted with 98 decibels in the old trucks, Bowman said. "That's quite a difference when you take into account that decibel readings are logarithmic."

The specifications for the truck that he and a handful of other selected firefighters came up with stress safety and ease. Features include rollout trays for the batteries and medical supplies, air tanks that fit into the backs of the bucket seats for easier suiting up and an undivided cab that seats as many as nine. "Someone joked that all we need are stewardesses," Bowman said.

Fires Not Only Task

Firefighting is no longer the department's No. 1 service. "We handled over 18,000 calls (in 1986) and 70% of them were rescue and medical aid. It's been just about that (ratio) over the past eight to 10 years," he said.

Anaheim has eight paramedic engine companies, whereas most nearby cities have one or two, Bowman said.

In 1975, after two years with the department, Bowman was one of the city's first nine firefighters to be selected for paramedic training. The prospect of fulfilling his father's dream for him to become a doctor was shattered by a motorcycle accident; knee surgery for Bowman, then a senior at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, scotched chances for an athletic scholarship. He did, however, obtain an associate's degree from Santa Ana College, majoring in fire science.

(Off duty, Bowman and his family--wife Kathy and children Katie, 11, Andrew, 4 and Brian, 2--sail on their boat and camp. He also plays organized softball.)

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