Assistant Fire Chief Mike Reeser put in 42 years of service
On the eve of his 65th birthday, the Sebastopol Fire Department’s stalwart assistant fire chief Mike Reeser was found unresponsive in his office by one of his employees at Santa Rosa Fire Equipment Services, according to Fire Chief Bill Braga.
Reeser rang in 42 years of service with the department on New Year’s Day and leaves behind a legacy as a humble, yet foundational force in the fire department he joined on Jan. 1, 1979, coupled with 40 years at the business he came to own after taking a summer job there as a teenager in 1972, his business website said.
“He was low-keyed but with a disposition that is pretty much unseen or unheard of. Cool, calm, collected,” Braga said. “Truly the backbone, and the institutional knowledge of Mike is unbelievable.”
Braga said Reeser planned to retire so he could join his wife, Jeanene, waiting in Washington where they purchased a home while he tried to sell his business in alarms, sprinklers, fire extinguishers and other equipment. He is survived by his wife, his daughters, Haley and Samantha, and his siblings, according to a Jan. 11 city press release provided by Braga.
Members of the Sebastopol Fire Department will attend the pending private family funeral service and the department is discussing with his family plans to memorialize Reeser with possibly a bench, plaque or tree at the firehouse. Braga added the city of Sebastopol also offered to memorialize him somewhere in town.
The fire chief said Reeser was involved in probably every major decision-making project of the department, leading fire engine and other purchases with an awe-inspiring memory and knowledge of equipment.
“You can ask Mike a question, something that maybe happened 30 years ago, and he can give you detail by detail of what took place, or he’ll remember that we purchased a brand new fire engine 10 years ago and he knows every part of that purchase, every part of that fire engine,” Braga said. “Even myself, who’s been here 36 years, I don’t come close to the knowledge that Mike had with this fire department.”
Over their careers side by side, the two flew to Wisconsin with other firefighters to sit with the fire engine manufacturer they ordered most of their custom engines from, drawing up specifications for compartments, water tank size and more, he said.
Braga said the assistant fire chief would circle the engine and detect deviations from the planned build when they were invited back to the facility to view the progress, “and he knew what the schematics looked like, he knew what our specifications were and it was all in his head.”
Reeser was deeply respected at the station as a historian of institutional knowledge, despite his discomfort with fanfare or being placed on a pedestal, according to Braga. “We never questioned anything that he would come up with or propose or recommend. We had such a trust in Mike and valued his experience,” he said.
The assistant fire chief was born in 1956 and set his career in motion volunteering as a radio dispatcher for the Twin Hills Fire Department now known as the Gold Ridge Fire Protection District in 1969, before becoming a fire explorer for that department from 1972 to 1974, according to the press release.
“But Mike grew up there. His dad was in the fire department of Twin Hills, his dad was on the board of directors in Twin Hills. Mike at an early age kind of grew up in a fire department family of volunteers,” Braga said.
According to the press release, Reeser actually went to Analy High School with Braga, graduating in 1974. Since Reeser was one grade below him, Braga said he knew of the guy but they never shared any classes.
He wouldn’t get to know his future assistant fire chief until their paths crossed years later at the Sebastopol Fire Department. Reeser was promoted from volunteer firefighter to volunteer fire captain in 1984, the press release said, and it was in that chapter of life that Braga joined as a firefighter, he said.
Reeser pulled open the curtains on his 33 years as the Sebastopol Fire Department’s assistant fire chief when he was promoted in 1988 under then Fire Chief Russ Shura, the press release said.
It’s clear there will be big shoes to fill for whichever fire captain Braga chooses to step into the role next.
According to Braga, Reeser was not a fan of being thanked and maintained composure when things went awry. “And I may be excited about something or upset about something, and he would just say, ‘Chief, it’s okay. It’ll all work out.’ One of those kinds,” he said.
Braga said it’s up to the family now to decide what will become of Santa Rosa Fire Equipment Services. Though the grief is still fresh, he said the fire department moves to celebrate his life and remember his significance to the department and the city.