By MIKE JENSEN
He's been the grunt on the front lines, hauling around fire hoses and cutting fire lines. He's driven fire engines, been a fire captain and overseen the training of thousands of firefighters.
Now Fred McVay is ready for his toughest assignment yet chief of the California Department of Forestry's Tuolumne-Calaveras Ranger Unit. He will also be Tuolumne County's Fire Warden.
"I didn't come down here to fix a lot of problems," said McVay. "I came here to be part of a really great team."
Among new challenges McVay sees ahead are managing local and state land while using a combination of land and air fire-fighting equipment.
"This is probably one of your more diverse units," said the 54-year-old.
McVay, who previously was the CDF Academy administrator in Ione, replaces Del Albright, who retired from the position last year.
As the ranger unit chief, McVay will oversee firefighting efforts for all of Alpine, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties, plus portions of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. He's responsible for 130 full-time and 100 part-time CDF firefighters, a $12 million budget, two air tankers, a spotter plane and helicopter, 22 fire engines and two inmate camps.
As Tuolumne County's fire warden, he'll also oversee four full-time employees and 80 volunteer firefighters.
McVay started with the state forestry and fire department as a seasonal firefighter while he was still a senior at Sanger High School.
By his third season with CDF, McVay was ready to quit school and make firefighting his career. Over the next 34 years, he worked his way up the ranks working in firefighting, training, prevention, arson investigation and land management.
McVay has spent the week meeting county officials and firefighters. He says he plans to attend every firefighter function and go out on every fire possible.
"I don't really believe you manage a (ranger) unit from behind a desk," he said.