Volunteer firefighter Doug W. Clark, a lieutenant in charge at Station 56 Mono Vista, just marked four decades of service with the Tuolumne County Fire Department, a stretch of time that began Jan. 12, 1981.

Anybody who does anything 40 years in a row gets a handle on their trade and becomes a leader and mentor to younger people following up behind them. Clark is unassuming and modest about his volunteer service, and he’s not about to give it up. 

Clark has responded to nearly every major fire in Tuolumne County over the past 40 years, including the 1987 Stanislaus Complex, the 2004 Calaveras Complex, and the 2013 Rim Fire. He’s helped fight structure fires at the Soulsbyville Mill, Twain Harte Lodge, the Standard Post Office, the old Dodge Ridge Lodge, Sullivan Creek Restaurant, and hundreds of others.

According to County Fire Chief Nick Casci and Assistant County Fire Chief Andrew Murphy, Clark has mentored many career firefighters and volunteer firefighters. He is company officer for TCFD Station 56 Mono Vista, the county’s busiest all-volunteer fire station, where volunteers respond to 900 calls annually.

Over four decades, Clark has worked his way up from an entry-level volunteer firefighter to driver/operator, and advanced to the rank of lieutenant and company officer at Station 56. He’s responsible for oversight of the station, one engine, one squad truck that carries tools and equipment for heavy rescue, a water tender truck assigned to the station, and a crew of six volunteer firefighters. 

Clark was born in Oakland in 1947, grew up in Castro Valley in Alameda County, and graduated from Canyon High School with the Class of 1965.

He did about three-quarters of a year at Laney College in Oakland, then joined the U.S. Air Force. From 1966 to 1970, he was a jet engine mechanic based at Travis AFB in Solano County, working on C-133 Cargomasters and C-141 Starlifters, heavy military transport jets that helped support American troops in the ongoing Vietnam War.

Like many mechanics, Clark was fond of motorcycles and built his own chopper based on a 1950s 74-cubic-inch Harley-Davidson panhead. He has a photo from 1970 that shows himself with his chopper in Castro Valley.

Clark started as a volunteer firefighter when he was still in Castro Valley with Alameda County in 1972. The next year he moved to Fairfield and volunteered with the Suisun Fire Protection District outside Fairfield, in Solano County.

Through those first decades of volunteer service, Clark was holding down a full-time job with AT&T. He worked so long for the company he remembers when it was called Pacific Telephone & Telegraph, Pacific Bell, and SBC Communications. Clark worked as a lineman, a cable splicer, and a cable maintenance man until he retired from AT&T in 2002. The next year, he began part-time bus driving for Summerville High School, a job he kept until December, when he decided to retire from school transport.

Clark has held down separate full-time and part-time jobs all through his volunteer firefighting career, and he and his wife, Sally, have raised three sons, Donald Clark, Doug J. Clark, and Wyatt Clark.

Volunteers are the backbone of the Tuolumne County Fire Department, Clark said Tuesday. Back in the 1990s the county had some 200 volunteer firefighters. Today there are 50 or less.

“These days, a problem is people think Cal Fire is in all the stations and they’re the ones responsible for everything,” he said. “There’s actually three levels of fire service. Federal government, which around here is mainly the Forest Service and National Park Service; state government, which is Cal Fire; and local government, which includes Sonora City, Tuolumne County, and a half a dozen different fire districts in the county.”

For the Forest Service and Cal Fire, their main duties are supposed to be protecting the wildlands and the watersheds, Clark said. Structure fires, car fires, medical calls, that’s all local government responsibility, but in Tuolumne County, the county contracts with Cal Fire for overhead personnel and staffing paid fire stations in Mono Village and Jamestown, Clark said.

The rest of the county fire department is all volunteers.

That’s one reason the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors decided to recognize Clark’s 40 years of dedicated service. He’s 73 now and he’s still volunteering and fighting fires.

“Doug has worked tirelessly to protect the citizens and visitors of Tuolumne County, and the State of California,” the county’s elected supervisors said in their Jan. 19 resolution commending Clark.

Clark deserves to be recognized for four decades of valiant, continued volunteer service to the County of Tuolumne, and its Cooperative Fire Protection Services, which serve the county, Jamestown, Groveland, and Columbia College, Casci and Murphy said.

“Doug has had an impact on thousands of lives since he began his career as a Volunteer Firefighter, including peers and fellow citizens, changing many lives, making the injuries and losses less severe, and consoling the inconsolable,” supervisors said in their resolution. “Doug has worked tirelessly to protect the county’s citizens and visitors, played an integral part in training new volunteer and career personnel, and is a reliable and hard-working member of the community.”

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

Recommended for you