Fire chief prepares for political arena |

Fire chief prepares for political arena

A newcomer to politics, Fire Chief Tim Smith says he will leave Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District a better place and he will do the same for Douglas County if elected a commissioner.

Smith, 55, who will retire at the end of December after 29 years with the department, promises to approach every issue before the county with an open mind, rendering decisions only after all the facts have been heard.

He said he sees growth in the Carson Valley as a key issue. Growth at Lake Tahoe, he said, is controlled by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, not the county commissioners.

“We need to protect individual property rights of people but maintain the open rural atmosphere,” said Smith, stressing that the county needs to study and factor in its water supplies when it considers development.

“We need to put growth in areas that already have infrastructure in place. The county can continue to grow and not compromise the rural atmosphere,” he said.

As far as economic growth, Smith said, the section of Douglas County at Lake Tahoe needs to be treated as any other part of the county would be treated.

“I would make sure the interests of Lake Tahoe are fairly represented,” he said. “It deserves the same consideration as the rest of the county in all decisions rendered.”

But he said any moves to diversify the economy should be focused in the valley.

“The county cannot continue to remain dependent on gaming and tourism as its biggest revenue sources,” he said. “We need to create a broader sales tax base.”

Smith, a native of Long Beach, earned a degree in business administration before being hired at the Santa Barbara office of IBM. In 1972, he moved to Lake Tahoe with his wife and 6-week-old child without ever seeing the area.

His first job was construction. His boss was a retired fire chief from Long Beach who introduced Smith to the idea of making a career out of firefighting. Smith took the suggestion seriously, signing on as a volunteer at Kingsbury Fire Protection District in 1973.

He started getting paid for his work in September 1974. By 1977, he had been promoted to engineer. Two years later he became a captain.

“In those days I was first working, we were everything,” Smith said. “It made me smarter faster because I had to learn that much more.”

It seems Smith is not one to shy away from a challenge. Almost as soon as he was a firefighter, he wanted to be the district’s leader.

“I thought I could do a good job as fire chief and set that as a goal,” he said. “I would think, ‘I would have done this differently. This is how the organization can be better, this is how and why.’ I think in my seven years I’ve accomplished that.”

Smith became chief in 1996, 16 years after the Kingsbury fire district merged with the Lake Tahoe fire district and became Tahoe-Douglas.

He now manages Tahoe-Douglas’ $7.5 million budget by trying to spend “taxpayer’s money in the most efficient manner.” Some of his proudest accomplishments: coordinating the remodel of the district headquarter at Round Hill and overseeing the construction of a $1.2 million firehouse on Upper Kingsbury Grade.

“That was a huge task,” Smith said. “We’ll all be gone and it will still be there.”

Also as chief, he assembled the district’s first strategic plan, its first annual report and its first comprehensive budget. Under his tenure, the number of firefighters on duty each shift has increased without the district having to spend more public money, he said.

But when it comes to the world of Douglas County politics, Smith admits he has much to learn.

“If you have the intellectual drive, you can be anything you want to be,” he said. “I enjoy mental challenges. I not going to retire and do nothing. I want to remain challenged, to make some positive differences.”

— Gregory Crofton may be reached at (530) 542-8045 or e-mail

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