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Sept. 20, 2020

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Vancouver hires successor to retiring fire Chief Joe Molina

Veteran of 25 years’ experience in Southern California counties to start Sept. 24

By , Columbian staff writer

The city of Vancouver has selected a new chief to lead the Vancouver Fire Department.

Brennan Blue, formerly a chief firefighting officer in Southern California, was hired to lead the VFD starting Sept. 24. He replaces former Chief Joe Molina, who’s retiring after 12 years with the department and 28 years in fire service.

In a media release Thursday, Blue called the opportunity to serve as fire chief a “distinct honor and a privilege.”

“I look forward to building on the great work of the department staff in collaboration with the community,” Blue said in the release. “Together, we will continue to provide the highest level of fire and emergency response to the residents and visitors of our vibrant and growing community.”

Blue’s salary was not disclosed. Molina’s salary in 2019 was $177,828, according to published reports.

It’s a conspicuous time to take over the city’s firefighting duties. It’s in the atmosphere, literally — as Vancouver staff notified the public of the news, the city was choked with smoke from encroaching wildfires across the West Coast. As of the announcement Thursday morning, more than 900,000 acres in Oregon and 480,000 acres in Washington had burned over the last week.

Locally, a brush fire that ignited in Fruit Valley on Tuesday burned 166 acres before crews that included personnel from the VFD were able to get it under control.

Blue previously spent 25 years working for fire departments in Riverside and San Diego counties. He comes to Vancouver from Cal Fire’s San Benito-Monterey Unit, where he served as chief to a unit with 21 stations and more than 400 staff.

Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes said in the media release that Blue “will bring exceptional, engaged leadership to the city of Vancouver and Fire District 5 in support of the Vancouver Fire Department’s core mission of fire suppression, prevention and emergency medical services.”

The search for a new Vancouver fire chief started back in March 2019, when Molina announced that he planned to retire before 2020. That deadline was extended by another six months, and city leaders put out a formal job posting in February 2020.

Then, as COVID-19 derailed normal city operations, that deadline was pushed back once more. City staff selected Blue after a nationwide search.

Molina told The Columbian in February that he hopes his predecessor will continue a data-driven approach to fire prevention and containment that the department has been shifting toward in recent years with programs like the Project Home Safe campaign.

Last week, the Vancouver Fire Marshal’s Office received a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue the campaign, which launched in 2015 and works to educate people on residential fire hazards by going door-to-door.

“How often did we keep the fire to the room of origin? That’s a thing we can measure. How often did we keep the fire to the building of origin?” Molina said.

According to the media release, Blue led the development of prevention, hazmat and emergency rescue programs in the California communities he served. He’s currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Bellevue College and lives in Clark County with his family.