Tony Balbiani loves what he does for a living and it shows immediately with a smile on his face. At 39, he’s been a fire fighter nearly all of his adult life and he couldn’t imagine doing anything else — except maybe becoming fire chief.
As of Jan. 1, Balbiani has been the Indian Valley Fire Department’s new chief. “Tony is already doing a fantastic job,” said Indian Valley Community Services District General Manager Chris Gallagher.
“I wanted a challenge: modernize Indian Valley Fire Department, but keep with some of the traditions,’ said Balbiani.
Balbiani’s career in fire fighting began in 1998. After a year of studying landscape architecture his freshman year of college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, he headed home to Santa Clara and enrolled in Mission College’s fire program and its EMT program instead.
In 2000, he landed a position with Peninsula Fire and Seneca Hospital in Chester as an EMT and began courting his wife, Greenville High School English teacher Lisa Balbiani.
In 2003, he enrolled in Butte College’s paramedic program and in 2005 began his tenure for Chester Fire as a firefighter and paramedic. He’s been there ever since. He works three 24-hour shift days in Chester. His fire chief has given him his backing to take on Indian Valley Fire Department, too.
Balbiani’s excitement around his new position is readily apparent. His face lights up with plans. Safety is his number one concern, and proper safety comes with training — lots of training for his volunteers.
Since he became fire chief, trainings have been held once a week on Tuesdays, rotating through the four stations. Crescent Mills Fire is also welcomed at the trainings. Balbiani wants to bring IVFD volunteers up to current standards immediately.
Currently, IVFD volunteers number around 15.
The trainings are becoming quite popular — mostly via word of mouth — as is the leadership of the new chief. There’s talk around town of new people wanting to join the volunteer force. There are people who left wanting to come back too.
The trainings last one to two hours and cover skills, techniques and equipment pertinent to living in a forest in a canyon with often dangerous roads. Through state fire marshal classes, trainings such as First Responder Operations, Hazardous Materials Incidents, Low Angle Rope Rescue, Vehicle Extraction, Swift Water Rescue and Confined Space Rescue are a few of the trainings that volunteers will take and receive certification. He also wants to see Railroad Emergency Training and possible EMT-level training take place.
He’d also like to see uniform standards for everyone. It felt weird for Balbiani to be walking around town in a sweatshirt and jeans. He’s used to his Chester Fire uniform.
At the January IVCSD meeting, which Balbiani could not attend, Gallagher reported on Balbiani’s work to date. He’d already inventoried the district to get a sense of what was operational, what needed to be replaced and what was still needed.
All vehicles have now achieved CHP approval to be back on the road. Balbiani, with Gallagher, will continue to look for newer used vehicles to enter the fleet.
Balbiani is searching for grants to help fund the much needed uniforms, equipment and gear needed to keep IVFD up to standards. They can only have so many volunteers at the moment because they only have so much gear to go around.
The department is always looking for donations to cover equipment and gear.
As for traditions, Balbiani is looking to bring back the once annual Fireman’s Ball, which took place every January and was a main fundraiser for the department. In recent years, the organization of such an event was proving difficult to manage.
A new tradition is the Indian Valley Fire & Rescue Facebook page. There are photos and videos of recent training days and information on future training.
Balbiani never stops working. Even as he plans a trip out of town, he’s also thinking of the spreadsheets he’ll be creating to keep track of it all and to visualize what needs to be done next.
Indian Valley can expect to see Balbiani about town 30 hours a week — in addition to his three days in Chester. He’s always reachable and when not physically in town, he has three assistant fire chiefs at the ready: John Hunter, Frank Hanson and Denny Wright.
He’s the father of three girls: Hannah, a senior at Montana State University in Bozeman; Rosemary, a sophomore at GHS; and Stella, an eighth-grader at GHS.
IVFD has stations in Greenville, Taylorsville, North Arm and Genesee. The new chief can be reached at [email protected]
“I’m looking forward to the future. Where do we want to go as a department and how do we want to get there,” Balbiani said. “I want to fight for my firefighters. I’ll be looking out for them.”