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Madera Fire Chief retiring

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Madera County Fire Chief Matt Watson is congratulated by former Madera County Supervisor and current Madera County Assessor Brett Frazier during his retirement ceremony at the Board of Supervisors in December. Both Frazier and Watson were honored for their service to the county, although Frazier will move to a new position. Watson was originally set to retire in December, but had to delay that a month or two. Also congratulating Watson and Frazier are Supervisors David Rogers, left, and Tom Wheeler.


Madera County Cal Fire Chief Matthew Watson is finally seeing the retirement light at the end of the tunnel.

After originally setting his retirement date at the end of last year, Watson had to postpone his retirement as Division Chief of Cal Fire Madera Division Operations for a couple of months.

He finally has retirement coming and is hosting a celebration on Saturday at the Madera VFW Hall (2026 Granada Drive) from 5-9 p.m. Watson says it’s a “Stop and Go Party.”

“I’ve been in Madera for 10 years,” Watson said. “It felt like two years. There’s been a lot of change in Madera County and Madera City since I was a part of it.”

Two of the biggest things that Watson was able to do during his 10-year tenure as Madera’s fire chief is opening not one, but two brand new firehouses.

“Opening a new fire station is a once in a lifetime career thing for a fire chief,” he said. “I was able to do one in Madera, Station 58, and one in Tesoro Viejo, Station 7. I was able to open two stations and do design on three others. It’s very rare to do two. Typically, fire chiefs only are only able to do one. I was very blessed with the growth of Madera City and Madera County to do that.”

One of the other things that Watson is proud of is being able to design Station 58 in regards to firefighter health safety.

“That fire station is very state-of-the-art,” he said. “What makes it state-of-the-art is there is a clean side and a dirty side. Cancer is the No. 1 cause of death for firefighters. The average lifespan for a firefighter after retirement is seven years. With that station, we hope to keep the carcinogens on the dirty side separate from the clean side.”

In addition, Watson has been able to help with firefighter safety at every fire station in Madera city and county.

“One of the things the city and county has done is install infrared dry dry saunas in every fire station,” he said. “After a structure fire, they will go wash off with soap, go into the dry sauna for 20 minutes. They can take a clean town and wipe off the black soot on it, and then take another shower with another charcoal soap.

“The cancer prevention was one of the big things I wanted to accomplish as a chief of Madera. We expressed the need to the city and county and both of them agreed to see the need. They worked through the process to make their firefighters safer.”

Watson has been a firefighter for the past 30-plus years and has spent the last 28 years with Cal Fire.

“I started as a volunteer firefighter in Merced County,” he said. “I spent most of my career in Madera with some time in Mariposa where I was a firefighter and a captain. I was an engineer and captain in Merced and a battalion and assistant chief in Madera.”

He came to Madera 10 years ago and quickly worked to upgrade the entire fire department within the city and county.

“When I first came to Madera 10 years ago, the fire department was operating like it was 1970,” he said. “The fire engines were old, the stations were old and the equipment was old. Through the Board of Supervisors and with the County CAOs, they came up with an equipment replacement plan. We’ve modernized the fleet. We’ve been able to do some remodel the stations that were old. That was one of my biggest accomplishments to be a part of that process.”

One of the things is is most proud of as he walks away is to have an equipment replacement program for the department.

“They never did before that,” he said. “The fire engine’s life span is 15 years. The City and County both are in line for that. They have both modernized their departments in both equipment and stations.”

He is proud of the work he has done in Madera and is happy to be able to walk away.

“I put 30 years in and I’m over 50 and I figured it was time,” he said. “I met the goals I set for the city and county. I figured it was a good time to step away. Steve Frazier said it perfectly when he left, ‘I did the job for 10 years. I had a lot of good ideas and I’m out of good ideas.’ That stuck in my head. I think it’s time for the next chapter for the city and county of Madera. I did delay my retirement, partially so I can find what’s next for me and waiting for them to announce the next person to fill my shoes.”

He has seen his share of big fires during his tenure. He was on scene during the old Madera Hotel downtown fire a couple of years ago.

“I was on scene for that being part of incident command,” he said. “That was one of the most memorable for me. In the county, we had the big gas leak on Avenue 12 and State Route 99 that shut down the city for about 12 hours. That was a large call. Obviously, all the large fires in Eastern Madera county like the Creek Fire, the Junction Fire and other fires. I was a part of incident command to help protect the residents of Madera City and County.”

Although he will miss serving the people and being around the employees, Watson plans to continue to work.

“What that looks like, I don’t know,” he said. “It could be applying for another fire position or doing something outside the fire service. My plan is to keep working for 5-10 years. I feel like I still have something to give. What that means or where that is, time will tell. I don’t plan to sit on the couch. I want to keep working.”

He plans to continue living in the Madera area. He is a member of the Madera Evening Lions so, he says he will still be around to keep his fingers on everything.

“It’s hard to think that after 30 years that someone can’t do it as good as you can,” he said. “The chief officers are all great employees. They can definitely carry the torch. I feel comfortable walking way and know they can take it to the next level.”

The final date for his “official” retirement still hasn’t been set, but he knows it’s coming soon. They held interviews for his position last week and Watson had some say in that process.

“I helped write the questions for the interview, but I did not participate in those. The interviews were done with Arnoldo (Rodriguez, Madera City Manager), Jay Varney (Madera County Administrator) and our deputy chief,” Watson said.

“Thirty years in the fire service and 10 in Madera, it’s very hard to think about stepping away,” he said. “I was able to make big decisions and help with the process in transforming the city and county. It’s hard to step away.”


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