The State Worker

Once disciplined, Cal Fire chief hailed for saving family on his way to work

Fire chief receives medal of valor award

Cal Fire Division Chief Paul Melendrez receives a state employee medal of valor for entering a burning house to save a family.
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Cal Fire Division Chief Paul Melendrez receives a state employee medal of valor for entering a burning house to save a family.

A Cal Fire division chief might have saved four lives on his way to work on Oct. 3, 2017.

Chief Paul Melendrez, who was honored with a public employee medal of valor Thursday in West Sacramento, spotted a home whose porch was engulfed in flames at about 6 a.m. that day off U.S. Route 6 in Hammil Valley, north of Bishop, according to a Cal Fire citation for a heroic act.

Two road workers from a Mono County crew were already on the scene. The three men doused the flames with what water was on hand and used fire extinguishers to slow the spread of the flames.

Then Melendrez, who wasn’t wearing any protective gear, broke a window and went into the building. He helped two adults and two children leave the house, according to the citation. The three continued fighting the fire until the local fire department arrived.

“With no regard for his safety, Chief Melendrez’s heroic service saved a family from a burning home,” Melendrez’s commendation reads.

Melendrez has been a leader at Cal Fire’s Owens Valley Conservation Camp, a remote site in Inyo County that trains prison inmates to fight wildfires.

He was the subject of an internal investigation in 2016 in which subordinates charged that he mistreated them and mocked an injured gay firefighter. Cal Fire and the union that represents state firefighters have said they have not received complaints about his leadership since the investigation.

Melendrez was one of 14 California state employees who received medals of valor for acts of heroism on and off the job.

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