New fire chief in town |

New fire chief in town

Twenty-eight years and six months after he started with Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District, Bruce Van Cleemput reached his goal of becoming chief.

Van Cleemput, 52, took the position on Dec. 31 at 5:01 p.m. when former Chief Tim Smith retired to take his position of Douglas County commissioner. Van Cleemput had the responsibilities of fire marshal and overseer of everything administrative during his previous role of assistant fire chief.

“It does feel different,” Van Cleemput said. “In an organization our size it has a tremendous impact because a lot of new people take on different responsibilities.”

Van Cleemput is now in charge of 52 employees and a $7.2 million budget. Most of the money, about 60 percent, comes from a state consolidated tax consisting of sales, motor vehicle, privilege, property transfer, liquor and cigarette taxes. The remainder comes from assessed value property tax.

Knowing the position of assistant fire chief to be taxing, Van Cleemput is proposing to break the position into two areas.

Battalion Chief Guy LeFever would handle the administrative duties of the assistant fire chief, while fellow Battalion Chief Rick Nicholson would become the fire marshal. LeFever and Nicholson started the positions on a six month trial period on Jan. 1.

Van Cleemput believes he’s physically capable to deal with the job after his battle with cancer. The tiny shadow of cancer on his chest, about a centimeter in size that appeared on a January 2002 exam, is in remission. He was diagnosed with low grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His hair is growing back after an experience that has forever changed him.

“When you have such an emotional roller coaster of events that come at you and make you re-evaluate how you are as a family man and as a fire chief you tend to look at things not so much from a personal perspective — such as how’s it going to affect me — you look at things a little more from an outside perspective,” Van Cleemput said.

He repeatedly drove to Davis with his wife for treatment and three doses of chemotherapy to vanquish the blood cancer.

Van Cleemput has seen the changes in firefighting. Departments and protection districts have evolved into a popular resource in public safety, he said. From a person falling out of bed and not being able to get up to a person who needs a ride after his or her car caught fire, firefighters are the ones to respond.

But with the changes, there is nowhere else Van Cleemput would rather be.

“I always had my sights set for working up through the ranks,” he said. “Of course everything is opportunity and timing. If the opportunity presents itself and the timing is good, things work out.”

— Contact William Ferchland at

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