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From Volunteer to Fire Chief: Bill Kelly Reflects on Over 30 Years of Service

In the City of Santa Clara are 10 fire stations all part of the Santa Clara Fire Department. At these stations, Fire Chief Bill Kelly manages about 167 employees and up to 40 volunteers, depending on how many people are in the volunteer program at any given time. Kelly will wrap up nearly 35 years of service in the Santa Clara Fire Department during his last day of work on July 3. After Kelly’s first day of retirement on July 4, a trip to Europe with his family will be on the horizon.

“I’ve always believed in working in a career to help others.” said Kelly, who was appointed Fire Chief in 2012. “I’ve watched fire fighters in the community help those in need, and that attracted me to the fire service. To be able to help someone in their hour of need is an appealing part of this profession. When I joined the Santa Clara Fire Department, I was 21 years old. I started as a volunteer in 1982, and then I was hired full time in 1984.

“I received some training to be a fire fighter as a volunteer,” Kelly continued. “That exposed me to both the dangers and rewards of the job. That strengthened my resolve to be a fire fighter. We have specific training for our volunteers so they can support full-time fire fighters during emergencies.”

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Kelly recalled that when he first started as a fire fighter, Santa Clara was just transforming itself into a high-tech economy.

“We were going to many industrial fires that involved hazardous materials,” he said. “Our department developed the county’s first Hazardous Materials Management and Response Program.”

Kelly is a fourth generation Santa Clara resident. He attended St. Clare School, where his mother and grandmother were also students. His high school years were spent at Bellarmine Preparatory School in San Jose. At San Jose State University, Kelly studied Aeronautics as an undergraduate. When he became Fire Chief, he returned to San Jose State University for a Master’s Degree in Public Administration.

Kelly looks back during his time as Fire Chief with pride. During his tenure, the Fire Department incorporated more technology into its operations, hired talented employees and, in August 2018, earned international accreditation from the Center for Fire Accreditation International.

“With support of the City Manager and the City Council, we were able to enhance the City’s disaster and readiness response by modernizing our City Office of Emergency Services,” Kelly added. “We led the Fire Department’s planning and game day response for Superbowl 50. It required us to collaborate with many agencies locally and within the state to manage our security plan. That helped us build long lasting relationships and increase our emergency response capabilities even today. If there’s ever a large-scale incident in Santa Clara, we can draw upon the partners that we have made for this plan.”

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2 Comments
  1. Dsrryl Von Raesfeld 4 days ago
    Reply

    Congratulations Bill on your upcoming retirement. Thanks for your years of dedicated service to Santa Clara and the County Fire Chiefs.

  2. Scott Brown 3 days ago
    Reply

    Well deserved retirement Bill! Very happy for you.

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