Man of many hats: Brother at St. Mary's College is also fire chief for Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department

When he's not in his robe- he's the fire chief.

ByLauren Martinez KGO logo
Thursday, September 10, 2020
Brother at St. Mary's College is also volunteer fire chief
Christian Brother by day, fire chief by night: When he's not in a robe, he's out on the front lines battling wildfires.

MORAGA, Calif. (KGO) -- At St. Mary's College in Moraga, Brother Christopher Donnelly is leading fire operations for the Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department because when he's not in his robe- he's the fire chief.

"It's strange right? A Christian Brother is also a fire chief," Donnelly said.

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Donnelly first came as a student brother in 1968.

"Well right now I'm unemployed, I normally work on major projects here, construction projects, new buildings, retro fits and things like that. But with COVID-19 we've really stopped all those projects," Donnelly said.

For 22 years Donnelly has worked as a volunteer firefighter for the Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department.

"The brothers ran a camp in the high sierra on Huntington Lake since 1954, and I've been up here at least 30 years and about 22 years ago, I joined the fire department there," Donnelly said.

"When I got there we had $300 and now we're valued at 3 million," he said.

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The department is now considered one of the best trained in the state for volunteers. Each of the 13 crew members are EMT's.

They're currently a huge asset fighting the Creek Fire that started near the communities of Shaver Lake, Big Creek and Huntington Lake.

"It's getting to the point where it's unsafe for people to stay there. Having been up so long there mistakes can happen when you're tired. We're struggling to try and find replacement crews to come in so it's a very likely possibility we won't have people to fight that fire so kind of scary moments,"

Donnelly said.

On Saturday morning they helped the sheriff's department go door-to-door to tell people surrounding Huntington Lake to evacuate.

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Donnelly said there's roughly 750 cabins up there. Thanks to careful planning and knowing the terrain, his department was able to coordinate with others on where to go.

"Our planning, and our execution was important," Donnelly said.

Donnelly wears many hats, but his role as a brother from the Catholic Church and a fire chief are one in the same.

"If you believe in God then that's kind of my gig, if you don't then that same thing works as being a human being and caring for others," Donnelly said.

He will be heading back to Huntington Lake this afternoon.

"I'm very worried and I'm tired but I have a soft bed to sleep in," Donnelly said.