Fire chief's election to board mean promotion for assistant

After more than 28 years with Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District, Bruce Van Cleemput reached his goal of becoming chief.

Van Cleemput, 52, took the position on Dec. 31, when former Fire Chief Tim Smith retired to become a Douglas County commissioner. Smith defeated incumbent Supervisor Don Minor in the Nov. 5 election.

Van Cleemput served as fire marshal and had other administrative duties as assistant fire chief.

"It does feel different," Cleemput said. "In an organization our size, it has a tremendous impact because a lot new people take on different responsibilities."

Van Cleemput is in charge of 52 employees and a $7.2 million budget.

Knowing the position of assistant fire chief to be taxing, Van Cleemput is proposing to split the duties.

Battalion Chief Guy LeFever will handle the administrative duties of the assistant fire chief, while fellow Battalion Chief Rick Nicholson will become fire marshal. LeFever and Nicholson started the new positions Wednesday on a six-month trial basis.

Van Cleemput said he feels he's physically able to deal with the job after a battle with cancer.

The cancer that appeared a year ago is in remission. His health and hair are growing back after an experience that changed him as a person.

"When you have such an emotional roller coaster of events that come at you and make you re-evaluate how you are as a family man and as a fire chief," Van Cleemput said, "you tend to look at things not so much from a personal perspective -- such as how's it going to affect me -- you look at things a little more from an outside perspective."

He drove to Davis, Calif., with his wife for three chemotherapy treatments to vanquish the blood cancer.

Van Cleemput said he has seen changes in firefighting in his long career. Departments and protection districts have evolved into a popular resource in public safety, he said.

Still, there is nowhere else Van Cleemput would rather be.

"I always had my sights set for working up through the ranks," he said. "Of course, everything is opportunity and timing. If the opportunity presents itself and the timing is good, things work out."


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