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Posted on: January 23, 2023

Former Hanford Fire Chief and Captain Share Stories, Sip Coffee at Station 1

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Two highly respected and long-serving members of the Hanford Fire Department, now retired, recently stopped by Station 1 for some coffee, conversation, and a tour.

Fire Chief Steve Pendergrass set up the meeting after seeing former Chief Wes Yeary at the department’s annual Christmas party.

“Chief Yeary actually built this station (in 1989),” Pendergrass said. “So I figured I’d show him the new floors, new paint, some things we’ve changed around.”

But for Pendergrass, who came to Hanford in 2019, it was also an opportunity to learn more about the department’s history and traditions—something he is determined to catalogue and preserve in the months to come.

“The fire department did really good documentation of events in the past, but it all got put in boxes, and we don’t necessarily know what’s what,” Pendergrass said. “So before we lose our history, we want to make sure that we’re collecting it with all the retirees.”

Yeary was Hanford’s chief from 1986 to 1995. He started his career with the department in 1960, following stints with the U.S. Air Force and California Division of Forestry. As a teen, Yeary remembers responding to fire calls in the middle of the night with his father, then a captain with the Tulare Fire Department. He would even lay hose lines and help extinguish flames.

For the Station 1 reunion, Yeary was joined by his friend and former colleague, Jerry Hedrick. Hedrick also served more than three decades with the department before retiring as a captain.

“Jerry was what you call one of the top captains,” Yeary said. “He did a lot of work. He was very dependable and he could fight any fire. He never backed down.”

“Well thank you sir,” Hedrick said.

“It’s the truth, Jerry,” Yeary replied.

In December of 1994, Yeary made his last hire—a green yet eager 21-year-old named Mike Briones.

Briones, now a Hanford Fire captain, idolized both men. Beyond the training they provided on every aspect of firefighting, he says they also taught him what it meant to be a good man—having a strong work ethic, showing compassion for others, and always doing the right thing.

“The things that I teach to my firefighters as a captain, they’re still the things and the values that were taught to me from these two and other captains,” Briones said.

“I owe the life that I have today to them,” Briones continued. “And to make them proud, I work hard every day on these calls.”

Briones told Yeary and Hedrick that they can stop by the station anytime.

And it appears they’ll be back soon. Along with Yeary and Hedrick, Chief Pendergrass plans to invite other department retirees to Station 1 in 2023.

He’s hoping it becomes a regular event—one where Hanford firefighters, past and present, can share stories, trade tips, and enjoy a cup of coffee.

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