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Central fire chief to lead four cities
May 03, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

Don Dornell

Don Dornell will oversee fire services four San Mateo County cities, a change that will take place after the retirement of Dennis Haag, San Bruno and Millbrae fire chief, later this month.

Haag is stepping down after 33 years of serving his hometown, Millbrae. He’s also been serving the city of San Bruno for four years. His retirement is an opportunity for cities already considering further shared services to continue to test the waters. Millbrae and San Bruno have been part of conversations to explore further shared administrative services with Central County Fire, which services Burlingame and Hillsborough and is led by Fire Chief Don Dornell. Two city managers confirmed yesterday that Dornell will take over the fire services for all four cities. Details of the agreement and Dornell’s contract were not immediately available.

Last summer, all four cities gave the go-ahead to continue exploring shared administrative services. One of the first steps was creating a temporary station, which is expected to open this summer. Under the proposal, stations on Hillside Drive in Burlingame and Crestview Drive in Millbrae would be closed. A new station would then be placed somewhere within the three-mile distance between the two stations. The temporary station would run for about a year which would allow staff to collect data to be shared with the city councils in May 2013, at which point further consolidation could be considered.

Dornell taking over all four cities is the next step toward sharing services.

Dornell became the chief of the Central County Fire Department in December 2006.

He grew up in Millbrae as the second oldest of five children, and the oldest of a pair of twins.

Dornell toyed with becoming an architect during high school, but ended up taking law enforcement classes at the College of San Mateo. He graduated in 1971, a year too young to test for the police force. Dornell joined the National Guard, which trained him to be a plumber after basic training.

He was laid off from his job as a plumber in San Francisco, before taking a job at the San Carlos Parks and Recreation Department as a plumber. After his first day, he knew the job wasn’t for him. He first took the hiring test for the Millbrae Fire Department, unsuccessfully.

Dornell got his break when the Piedmont Fire Department hired him — a position he held for four months. In two months, Dornell went on a total of four calls — a little boring for the young recruit. When a position opened up in Burlingame, Dornell jumped at the chance. He officially joined the Peninsula team on March 1, 1977.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: heather@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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