PORTRAIT OF A FIRE CHIEF
Reprinted from a newsletter written
In the year 1898 Charles E. Smith was born in Chula Vista when
the community consisted of only forty families. As he grew up he
developed a keen interest in the fire service. He became a member
of the Hercules Potash Company Fire Department prior to entering
the Army during World War I.
After being discharged, he volunteered as a firefighter to serve
his hometown. In May 1921 Chula Vista organized its fire department
and Charles Smith was appointed the first fire chief for the city.
Chief Smith worked hard and diligently to provide the best fire
protection possible for his community. Through his efforts many
techniques were developed which are standard procedure in modern
Leaving Chula Vista he joined the California State Fire Marshal’s
Office in 1931 and continued his efforts to improve fire protection.
Through his research an effective building code was created which
brought him a national award for his fire prevention work. He was
later instrumental in establishing the Uniform Building Code as
a guide for all State construction.
With the outbreak of World War II, Mr. Smith again answered the
call to the service of his country. He fought fire aboard ship as
well as ashore, experimented with new firefighting techniques for
the government, and he instructed school in firefighting.
After the war he returned to the State Fire Marshal’s Office
where he served until 1955. During his last ten years he served
in a supervisory capacity that dealt primarily with inspection and
In 1955 Mr. Smith went into private practice as a consultant and
continued to be active in all phases of fire and life safety. After
thirteen years in private business, he is now retired in San Raphael,
In looking back over his years of service he says he was very
fortunate because he says of his entire career, “It was like
looking through a hole in a fence – into tomorrow.”
Charles E. Smith certainly exemplifies the type of man that has
made the fire service the great institution it is today. We are
proud to call him “Chief.”