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Fire station dedicated to 'Smokey' Browning

Longtime volunteer spent 44 years with department
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Rocklin Volunteer Assistant Chief Lee “Smokey” Browning, now in his 44th year with Rocklin Fire, is being recognized in a big way. Following the nomination by former Rocklin Fire volunteer and current Rocklin City Council member George Magnuson, the council voted July 24 to dedicate the Rocklin Road fire station to Lee Browning. “He goes back to the day when firefighters were not paid to go to fires. Lee has spent a long time serving the citizens of Rocklin,” Magnuson said. In his 50 years of fire service Browning has also worked for Dry Creek Fire District, Roseville Fire and the Southern Pacific Railroad Roundhouse Fire Department. He joined Rocklin Fire in 1966 when it was an all-volunteer department. It began paying firefighters after 1975. Starting in 2010 , volunteers became support staff — no longer allowed to do fire suppression. Today Rocklin’s Fire Department has 44 fire volunteers and 40 paid fire staff. “For approximately 25 years he kept a fire truck in front of his house and he would respond to every call that was in the city — first aid or fire,” Magnuson said. Council member Peter Hill, who called the honor “well deserved,” remembers the lightning fast response Lee demonstrated in 1976 when a child fell out of a tree at a Rocklin baseball park. “Someone had wrapped wire around the tree. It cut the kid’s leg to the bone all the way while he was sliding down the tree,” Hill recalled. “By the time I was able to get out of the stands, Lee Browning was getting out of his truck and had the kid on a backboard.” Retired Rocklin volunteer firefighter Harlin Smith remembers the first time he met Browning in 1973. “We had a fire call come in — a grass fire at the creek no longer than 100- to 200-yards down the street,” Smith said. “We made a left turn to get to the grass fire. Here was a red truck coming toward us with an arm sticking out the window holding a hose and putting the grass fire out. That’s how I met Chief Browning. Lee was there before we were. He had the fire out, waved his hand and left.” Browning was surprised to learn of the dedication in his honor. “It was their choice. I don’t do it for anything, but what I get out of it. (It's the) satisfaction of being a good person and helping the community,” Browning said. Browning has served under 13 fire chiefs and waved off three separate offers to serve as fire chief because he didn’t like “the political part” of the top job. He’d rather do the dirty work in the field. “It is a commitment to be the best and do the best you can with the people and the equipment you have — period,” he said. “We’re here to serve the people of Rocklin.” Browning has never been seriously injured on the job, but he has had plenty of sprained ankles and mild burns. He’s been tangled up in barb wire and has even encountered rattlesnakes and wasps while putting out blazes. Browning points to other volunteer and paid firefighters who also deserve recognition. Rocklin Firefighter Reed Vetterli was burned while rescuing a baby from a burning house in 1972. Jon Van Dort and Alton Tate were injured when the ambulance they were in rolled over. And then there was Tim Mrozinski, who about decade ago helped save five people trapped in a house fire on Midas Avenue. “We had to cut the bars out of the window and evacuate the people out of the house through the front window,” Browning said. “The nine-month-old handed to me wasn’t breathing.” Browning said he revived the child after giving it first aid and oxygen. “The city had not had a fire death that I have know of since I’ve been here and probably two years before I got here,” Browning said. He remembers with fondness the six babies he helped deliver, including the first one in 1969 in the trailer park off Taylor Road. When the frantic parents-to-be could not reach the midwife, they called the fire department. “I remember that one because the gal actually named the baby girl after myself and (firefighter) Bill Spradlin. A girl named Billy Lee. That surprised me,” he said. Browning continues to volunteer for the department, even though volunteers are no longer allowed to fight fires. And yet, he said he’s not planning to retire anytime soon. “When do I stop? When I can’t function,” Browning said. Fire Station No.2 on Crest Drive is dedicated to the late Vince Lopez, another longtime Rocklin Fire Department volunteer. _______ Lee “Smokey” Browning Nov. 1968: Joined Rocklin Volunteer Fire Dept. 1974: Appointed Assistant Volunteer Fire Chief 1979: Lobbied for tax to build Fire Station No.1 1985: Appointed Interim Volunteer Fire Chief jointly with Vince Lopez 1995: First Rocklin Firefighter of the year 2006: Fire Service Achievement award 2007: Pioneer Award from City of Rocklin Source: City of Rocklin