Q&A: Retired League City Fire Chief Gary Warren reflects on his time with department

Gary Warren was League City's fire chief for over six years. He retired July 30. (Courtesy city of League City)
Gary Warren was League City's fire chief for over six years. He retired July 30. (Courtesy city of League City)

Gary Warren was League City's fire chief for over six years. He retired July 30. (Courtesy city of League City)

After more than six years as League City’s fire chief and 48 years as a firefighter, Gary Warren has retired as of July 30. Warren helped the department reduce response times and increase membership to the all-volunteer department, among other accomplishments.

Warren spoke with Community Impact Newspaper about his time with the department. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

THE DEPARTMENT HAS SEEN SUBSTANTIAL GROWTH IN VOLUNTEERS. WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE IN THAT?

The volunteers, we can't order them around. What you have to do is sell them on different ideas, and I sold them on the fact that if they wanted to remain volunteer, it would be really important for the department to grow with their membership so they'd be able to keep up because eventually we're going to have to add another station to the southwest; we're going need to be able to put firefighters there.

And they agreed, and so I talked to city manager, [and] we got more money for recruiting, but I think the biggest help was when [Director of Communications] Sarah [Greer Osborne] came along with her skills. ... We have a district chief, Daniel Gibbs, who decided to take it on, and he and Sarah got together, and I guess they just really formed a real good team, and the word got out, and people started answering the call, and the last two years have been the best recruiting years that this department has ever had.


WHAT OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS AT LCFD ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?

When I first got here ... the most glaring gap that I saw was that we have like 18 miles of waterfront along Clear Creek and Clear Lake, and along that waterfront is just millions and millions of dollars worth of property. And [we had] no fire boat. And so almost immediately, I started asking for a fire boat. There was no money for it, and so every year I was working on trying to get a fire boat. I applied for grants from [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and from the fire administration to give me a grant ... so now we have a 30-foot ... all-hazards boats.

I'm proud of the fact that we added another station—station 6—in order to get the coverage grid that we needed for the city, and then we called [the Insurance Services Office] to come down and do a protection evaluation of the city, and [the department] was able to prove the city's fire protection rating at ISO 1, which is the highest rating you can get. I think almost any firefighter in the department will tell you how proud they are of that. ISO, they're a for-profit company, but they sell their data to the insurance companies so that they can set rates for homeowners, and with an ISO 1 rating, you'll get the cheapest rate that your insurance company will allow you to have for fire insurance.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE HOPES FOR THE DEPARTMENT?

Well, my hopes are that they'll be able to continue to recruit like they have been and be able to stay a strong and functional department that responds at the same level that they're responding now because the growth is going to really test us a lot, especially on the southwest. ... There's a whole bunch of subdivisions that are platted out and ready to go, and the population may just explode out there at any time. ... That’ll be a difficult thing to time out. You can't get firefighters if you don't have anybody living out there, but you want to have good protection as soon as they start building. That won't be possible at first, but at some certain point in time, it'll be time to flip the switch, and someone needs to build the station and get people recruited as quickly as possible.

WHAT WILL YOU MISS MOST ABOUT BEING LCFD’S CHIEF?

What I'll miss most is that I love this kind of work. If I didn't, I wouldn't be doing it for 48 years like I have. But it's time for me to step aside and go back to Austin and spend more time with my family and take care of my business there because I've been gone for over six years. My wife has been there, and we've traveled back and forth to visit each other on the weekends, but after six years, you kind of just know it's time.

But what I'll miss the most is the people. I think that's always the answer you get from anybody is you'll miss the people. ... I realized I was going to miss talking to all the directors in the city, too. They're all good people, and they've worked really hard to try to take care of the citizens. Anybody that cares that much is going be a good person anyway, so I'll miss all of them.

I'll miss the firefighters, too, because I have never seen a fire department like this, and like I've told you, I’ve seen all kinds. But this has got to be one of the most unique and rarest fire departments I've ever seen. For the size of this department, which is like 182 members right now, working at a city that's probably over 115,000 people, that's totally volunteer and still able to get an ISO 1 rating—I would venture to say there's not a department like that anywhere in the world.
By Jake Magee

Editor, Bay Area & Pearland/Friendswood

Jake has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper. Today, he covers everything from aerospace to transportation to flood mitigation.


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