SCFSC History -The Early Years

Dirk Mattern and Jerry Serpa
Dirk Mattern & Jerry Serpa

SCFSC was incorporated as Santa Clara Fire Safe Council Inc. in October 20021 but SCFSC's history goes back a few years earlier. SCFSC had three 2001 Federal Grants from the USDI Bureau of Land Management that started in October 2001. County Fire Chief Dirk Mattern (now retired) remembers, "I was first approached by Curt Itson around November or December of 1997 who said that CDF wanted to start up a council in Santa Clara County. The first 'official' meeting of the then called 'Firesafe Council - West Santa Clara County' was held on 1/28/1998. It was started and chaired by Curt Itson with CDF."

Curt Itson, now the Fire Marshal at UCSF, says, "I was Fire Captain with CDF in Morgan Hill back then. One of my duties was to help local stakeholders form Fire Safe Councils in their areas. I also formed the Diablo Fire Safe and Monterey County Fire Safe Councils."

Dirk also remembers: "For a couple of years, the Council kind of floundered, mostly due to the inability to get residents interested in participating. So, not much happened other than our yearly chipping program in the Redwood Estates area." This was the Santa Clara County Fire Department chipping program which is now done by SCFSC with an annual contribution from County Fire.

Dave Athey & Pat Congdon
Dave Athey & Pat Congdon

Battalion Chief (later Division Chief) Dave Athey was the CDF (now CAL FIRE) representative as we were working on incorporating and becoming a non-profit organization in 2002. The signers of our Articles of Incorporation and ByLaws were Dave Athey (CDF), Joseph Carrillo (San Jose Fire Department), Pat Congdon (Santa Clara County Open Space Authority), Dirk Mattern (Santa Clara County Fire Department) and Allan Thompson. Dave Wachtel (CDF) was the Secretary.

Dave Athey remembers that Joan Loeffler (Montego Road Homeowners Association) was the first President when we were incorporated. San Jose Fire created a "Wildland Officer," rank of Fire Captain, specifically for working with the wildland areas of San Jose. The first Captain in the position that I remember was Joe Carrillo, and a big part of the duties of the San Jose Fire Wildland Officer was participation in SCFSC. I believe that later Fire Captain Juan Diaz promoted into the spot. Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation was represented by Daniel Clark. Don't remember if it was before or after Curt Itson but a Fire Captain named Don Kendall ran the Council during the "doldrums" that Dirk mentions – and of course Dirk was there from the very early days.

Don Rocha remembers, "I was the original representative for Santa Clara County Parks. Then Dan (Clark) and I traded off as our Natural Resource Program expanded and we got busy."

Pat Congdon, the General Manager of Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, soon became the President and held that position until Jerry Serpa became the President in late 2007. Dave Athey was the first Treasurer and held that position until Allan Thompson became Treasurer in mid-2005.  Dave and Pat are admiring a cake illustrating Defensible Space in the photo above.

Jerry Serpa is the Assistant Chief of the Spring Valley Volunteer Fire Department which serves the Wildland Urban Interface area east of Milpitas, CA. Chief Serpa has been involved in firefighting for almost 30 years. As a child he helped his dad at a ranch on Sierra Road to put out wildfires with wet burlap sacks.

The first three 2001 Federal Grants included a grant for Fire Safe Council startup expenses (you don't see any of these today). Amber Bach (now Gardner) and Cheryl Miller of Amphion helped us incorporate and become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Amber is still with the California Fire Safe Council.

If Dirk can remember something related to SCFSC as far back as 1997, were we one of the first FireSafe Councils? I don't think so. Rather, our neighbors Fire Safe San Mateo County and Fire Safe Marin can trace their history back to 1992. Note that this was just after the Oakland Firestorm of 1991.

See the SCFSC Timeline for a list of important SCFSC milestones.

Next: Santa Clara County Communities at Risk  |  SCFSC History Table of Contents

Glossary for this chapter (see the Table of Contents for a more complete glossary):
CDF – California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, part of which is now called CAL FIRE.
SCFSC – Santa Clara Fire Safe Council Inc. or Santa Clara County FireSafe Council (we don't use SCCFSC).
County Fire – Santa Clara County Fire Department.
UCSF – University of California, San Francisco.
USDI – U.S. Department of the Interior which includes the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

References for this chapter:
See for the SCFSC Articles of Incorporation, ByLaws and other public information including the public financial information in this history.
E-mails from Dirk Mattern, Curt Itson, Dave Athey and Don Rocha.
See (The first fire safe councils) and (1992)


Is this an official history of the Santa Clara County FireSafe Council?

No, this is how Judy and I remember it plus the contributions of many past and present SCFSC participants.

Can I contribute?

Yes, your comments are welcome and appreciated. Please use the Comment form at the bottom of each history page or use the Contact form.

Are we done yet?

No, there will be many more pages, photos and contributions.  Hopefully, the history of SCFSC will never be finished.

Is there a Table of Contents?

Table of Contents,
SCFSC People


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Allan and Judy Thompson

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