Around East County: Former fire district chief Brentwood Citizen of Year

People often contribute to their community behind the scenes and never get a chance to be thanked. That’s one of the reasons the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce hosts its Celebrate Brentwood event each year to recognize people like Brian Helmick, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District’s former chief.

2022’s Brentwood Citizen of the Year started his career right out of high school and more than 20 years later worked his way to the top of his field in East County.

“This recognition is humbling,” Helmick said. “It’s only fair that I should share it first with my family and second with the Fire Board and all those that shared my vision and also all of my staff.”

Helmick was one of several individuals the Chamber announced as top citizens at Celebrate Brentwood. Others included Handydads, owned by Adam Martinez, for Business of the Year; Soroptimist International of the Delta for Nonprofit Organization of the Year; Dalton Weger, Employee of the Year; and Tatiana Torres, Youth of the Year.

The Chamber presented a list of nominees for the top honors and asked the public to vote for the winners. Helmick was the top choice by far. The dedication and service of any firefighter would probably make that person a fine choice as a Citizen of the Year. Still, Helmick’s journey and commitment to the East County community caused most of those who voted to click on his name.

Helmick began his firefighter journey as a Moraga Fire District reserve firefighter. Soon after, he became a volunteer firefighter in East County for the Oakley and Knightsen stations. Newly married, he and his wife, Kristen, moved to East County, where Kristen took on a teaching position at Oakley’s O’Hara Park Middle School.

When local fire stations combined into the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD), Helmick moved from volunteer to full-time staffer. Helmick noted that East County never had a plan for the Fire Department. The community consisted of rapidly growing communities that always struggled with antiquated fire and EMS services.

Throughout his time at ECCFPD, Helmick worked to find the best possible solutions for the district to offer a protective service to the entire community it served. It was never easy. When Helmick became ECCFPD chief, he continued to look for solutions to hold the district together.

“I always knew there was a path and felt called to find it,” Helmick said.

Over the past year, the solution became clear: To help the district provide the best emergency services possible, ECCFPD would have to merge with the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (CCCFPD). In the end, Chief Helmick ended up solving himself out of a job.

“I did my job and fixed the fire district,” Helmick said. “I made the sacrifice, and we achieved what so many felt wasn’t possible.”

Earlier this summer, the merge was complete. CCCFPD offered Helmick the position of deputy chief, and he says he will continue to work hard for the community he loves. Like most leaders, Helmick also gives his time to his community and fellow brother and sister firefighters. He is a Brentwood Rotarian and has worked on several programs with which the Rotary Club is involved.

He and his family are active members of the Golden Hills Community, serving on the church’s Security and Medical Group and hosting couples Bible study. Professionally, he is involved in several organizations, including the Direct 1033 Foundation, which offers peer support. He is the past president and co-founder of the Contra Costa County Support Services Association. This group works with first responders, including fire, police and EMS to offer peer-to-peer training. He has also served as a California Fire Chaplin for the past five years.

Helmick is a former director of the Fire Districts Association of California, a group that supports hundreds of fire districts throughout the state. He also serves as president of the California Fire Chiefs Association and is on the California Special Districts Association’s legislative committee.

Roni Gehlke can be reached at

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Author: Roni Gehlke