PIEDMONT -- New fire Chief Warren "Bud" McLaren is a pencil-and-paper guy.

"I have a smartphone and an electronic calendar on the computer, but I still like to keep track of my appointments also on an old-fashioned calendar," kidded the chief, pulling out the calendar with appointments and meetings scribbled through October.

McLaren, who served as interim chief when John Speakman -- and later Ed Tubbs -- retired, was officially appointed chief in July after an executive search led back to the guy who has worked for Piedmont Fire since 1988.

"Bud grew into readiness for the chief's position over a long period of years," City Administrator Geoff Grote said.

Newly-named Piedmont Fire Chief Warren "Bud" McLaren poses for a photograph at the department’s headquarters, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 in
Newly-named Piedmont Fire Chief Warren "Bud" McLaren poses for a photograph at the department's headquarters, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013 in Piedmont, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group)

"Bud was exactly the right choice at the right time," Grote continued. "His knowledge and dedication to the fire service ... allowed him to start in on important issues in the department on day one. He already enjoys the respect and confidence of Piedmont firefighters and the management staff."

McLaren's predecessor, Tubbs, retired after serving about 2 ½ years. Tubbs was serving double-duty as the chief for Albany and Piedmont in a cost-saving plan that was discontinued.

The 57-year-old McLaren said he made a five-year commitment to the city to stay on as chief to ensure continuity. McLaren grew up in the San Diego area and moved through the ranks starting at age 18.

"I always knew what I wanted to do (was fire service)," he said.


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He worked for the USDA Forest Service in Cleveland National Forest near San Diego for five years, the site later of the 2003 Cedar Fire, the largest wildfire in the state's history. Fifteen lives were lost, 2,820 structures destroyed and 280,278 acres burned. It saddens McLaren to think of it, he said. In his last year with the Forest Service, he was assigned to a lonely lookout tower.

"That was not for me," said McLaren, who had a wife, and married at age 20.

He went to work at Big Bear Lake, then for a propane gas company for a stint. He realized he needed more training for medical calls and took classes to become a paramedic. Hours of training and classes later, McLaren moved from firefighter to lieutenant to captain in 2002 for the Piedmont Fire Department.

He admits it's been an adjustment from operations to administration. Now an 8-to-5 guy, he stays in Dublin during the week, going home to Waterford, near Modesto, on weekends. Waterford was never much of a problem when he did shift work, as he was off several days during the week. He and his wife may move closer to the area now.

McLaren is busy with finding a captain to fill his old position and with finding another firefighter. The department maintains seven to eight personnel per day per shift, with a minimum of three paramedics per shift, a lieutenant, a captain, an engineer and a fire truck driver. Critics have accused Piedmont Fire of being overstaffed. The City Council supports its level of service for Piedmonters.

Piedmont runs its own ambulances. The department just acquired a new $485,000 engine that is so sophisticated that it required new training to operate. The old engine was sold to a department in Oklahoma that was happy to take it.

Of the new engine, "It may look the same from the outside, but it sure isn't like the old engine," McLaren said.

Technology has been a boon to the department. McLaren can communicate by Skype, and there are training videos on YouTube and other streaming media that firefighters can view.

"I can send out an email blast to other chiefs and have instant access to view other fires for training," he said.

While there are no female firefighters on staff, the dorms and bathroom were remodeled to accommodate women. In 2009, the kitchen and day room were remodeled and dorms fitted with cubicles for more privacy. McLaren is in touch with the three female former Piedmont firefighters who have moved on successfully to other cities.

McLaren, a father of three children and grandfather of five, said he has learned much from the three different chiefs under whom he served.

"I take that and apply it to my own leadership style," said McLaren, who employs a calm, organized and balanced approach to his new post. "We want to keep the staff in a state of readiness and openness with our citizens."

McLaren is developing a flier that includes safety and informational tips for Piedmonters.