The State Worker

Bob Wolf, a ‘force of nature’ in Cal Fire, dies at 57

Bob Wolf led the state firefighter union for a decade, from 2002 to 2012. He died March 2 during a family trip to Arizona.
Bob Wolf led the state firefighter union for a decade, from 2002 to 2012. He died March 2 during a family trip to Arizona. Photo courtesy of Cal Fire Local 2881

Bob Wolf, a firefighter known as a “powerful force of nature” in uniform and later as a labor leader in Sacramento, has died. He was 57.

He was the longest-serving president of Cal Fire Local 2881, the union that represents state firefighters. Wolf, the son of a firefighter, led the organization from 2002 to 2012, carrying initiatives that raised pay and improved working conditions for thousands of firefighters.

Around Sacramento, he had a reputation as a determined advocate who loved his colleagues and held his teammates to high standards. Plus, at 6-foot-4, Wolf made a memorable first impression.

“He was a dancer inside the body of an offensive lineman,” said Terry McHale, a lobbyist who represents public safety unions.

Wolf died unexpectedly on March 2 during a trip to attend spring training baseball games in Arizona with his family. Cal Fire Local 2881 and Wolf’s family are planning a memorial that likely will take place on April 1 in Sacramento.

His brother, Darrell, wrote in a message to the union that Wolf had enjoyed “one of the best days of his life” in Phoenix. “We had great weather and seats behind home plate. He ate his favorite dinner and went to bed, passing away in his sleep.”

News of his death traveled quickly among the state’s firefighters. Friends have been posting tributes to him at the union’s website, and Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott issued an all-staff message earlier this week praising Wolf’s leadership.

“Bob Wolf was larger than life as a labor leader and advocate for Cal Fire firefighters,” Pimlott said. “At the same time, he was a caring, passionate person and a great friend. He will be truly missed.”

Tim Edwards, the union’s rank and file director, remembered Wolf as a mentor. Early in his career, Edwards worked on teams that Wolf led as a captain in Riverside County.

“He was a hard-charger. He took everything seriously. He made sure we knew we worked for the public,” Edwards said.

Over time, Edwards followed Wolf into the union. He credited Wolf with efforts that boosted overtime pay, improved schedules for seasonal firefighters and distinguished Cal Fire within the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“He moved the department forward as a whole,” Edwards said.

Mike Lopez, who succeeded Wolf as union president, called Wolf a charismatic leader “who always had an audience.”

Wolf’s father, Carl, is recognized on the state’s memorial wall for fallen firefighters. Carl Wolf died from ailments that were connected to his firefighting career.

“Bob’s first home was a Cal Fire firehouse. Bob never wanted to be anything but a firefighter. In the course of his remarkable career he earned the respect of his colleagues as one of the best and the brightest of our profession,” Lopez wrote in a message to the union.

Adam Ashton: 916-321-1063, @Adam_Ashton. Sign up for state worker news alerts at