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Santa Clara’s New Fire Chief Knows the Bay Area Well

Santa Clara’s incoming Fire Chief Ruben Torres might be a new name in Santa Clara, but he’s definitely not new to the Bay Area.

Torres grew up all over the South Bay, including Morgan Hill and San Jose. He started his fire career at the age of 20 and he can still laugh about his first interview with the San Jose Fire Department (SJFD).

“I walked into the interview and the first thing the person said was, ‘Don’t be nervous.’” said Torres laughing. “And I said, ‘I’m extremely nervous.’ And they go, ‘Why?’ And I go, ‘Look at how I’m dressed.’ I go, ‘I didn’t know I had to wear a suit, but you’re going to find out who I am.’”

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Torres got that first job with SJFD worked his way up through the ranks. He served as the interim chief of the department from 2013 to 2014.

“Over time you realize, ‘I could retire pretty young and then what am I going to do?’” said Torres. “We just adopted kids. [My wife’s] not ready for me to be home. I looked around and I started thinking, ‘I achieved the highest rank in San Jose. I worked in the busiest companies.’ I felt confident about my success in the department. I thought, well, I still have a lot to offer.”

In 2015, Torres retired from SJFD and took a position as the Chief of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department (LPFD). After four years, he says he felt like he had accomplished what he could with LPFD, so when the position of Chief opened up in Santa Clara, he jumped at the chance.

“Santa Clara’s pretty exclusive; that Chief’s job doesn’t come up every couple of years,” said Torres. “I thought, ‘wow, there’s an opportunity to be involved with an excellent organization, high standards, it just got accredited,’ all the things that you would think, ‘okay, if I were to put a department together, I’d want to do these certain things.’”

Torres says his past work with the SJFD will come in handy in Santa Clara. He’s airport certified and worked as a hazmat technician, two things that could be critical if the worst happens and a plane crashes at San Jose International Airport.

“When I worked in San Jose we used to always say, ‘You know, a plane is going to crash in San Jose.’ and everybody would say, ‘It’s going to go right through downtown.’ And we’d say, ‘No, it’s going to go right through Santa Clara.’ We got to train,” said Torres.

Torres says operationally, the Santa Clara Fire Department is well trained and he wants to maintain that level of training. On the administrative side, he’ll focus on fiscal responsibility, with an eye on facility maintenance and budget “forecasting for the future.”

“Chief Kelly did an amazing job of taking it to the level that it’s at over his tenure in the position. Chiefs before him have made Santa Clara what it is and the department and now it’s my turn to come in and continue to build upon that part. Not change it,” said Torres. “I’d like to leave that mark of he kept to the traditions of the fire service, but was able to be innovative enough to move us into whatever the future holds for us as an organization.”

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