Humboldt Bay Firefighters Union — Local 652 announced in a Facebook post on Monday that former fire Captain Tom Perrett has died. He was 83.
Perrett served with the old Humboldt Bay Fire District 1 from August 1964 through his retirement in October 1993, and over the course of his career, he influenced countless lives and was at the dawn of a new era in professional firefighting when he hung up his turnouts for the last time in the ’90s.
“He brought hard work, commitment, honesty, those traditional values to the job every day,” said former Humboldt Bay Fire Chief Eric Smith, who is married to Perrett’s daughter, Lee Anne. “He was a post-Korea Marine, he was honest and he held people accountable. There aren’t many men like him.”
For Smith and his family, the loss of Perrett is as personal as it is professional. Smith began his career as a volunteer with the Humboldt Bay Fire District in 1977 and then joined the Eureka Fire Department in 1985 eventually rising to chief before his retirement in 2010.
Smith’s oldest son Josh is a fire captain with Cal Fire and one of Perrett’s nephews, Kyle Brown, is a member of Humboldt Bay Fire. They were just some of the people impacted by Perrett’s mentoring and guidance.
“I definitely think he was an advocate for the young firefighters and there were a number of people who would come to the firehouse and see this rough and gruff man with an unlit cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth and think he was just a hard guy, but he really focused on the growth and development of countless people,” Smith said. “He was a homegrown firefighter who started working at Arcata Redwood loading rail cars so he was used to hard work. He was going to give it his all and he also would make sure he took care of those around him.”
Perrett was the father of four children and, according to Smith, he was the patriarch of an extended family and his loss has been deeply felt. While Smith had no trouble talking about Capt. Perrett the firefighter, when the talk turned to the Tom Perrett the man, Smith choked up with emotion.
“There is just devastation across the family,” Smith said. “He touched so many people’s lives. I know in one case, one of the grandchildren was just crushed when the news circulated through the family grandpa had passed. Probably just as important to mention is the love affair between him and his wife, Patricia. They were both local and met on a blind date arranged by a friend. They were inseparable and he worked so many years and worked so hard to support her and the family. It was a true love affair.”
Perrett’s career stretched over two different eras when it came to firefighting: The 1970s and 1980s saw a tremendous shift in creating professional fire departments maintained by municipal governments along with changes in the technical knowledge needed for the job.
For firefighters such as former Humboldt Fire District 1 Fire Chief Glenn Ziemer, who served as chief from 2004-08, the lessons learned while working under Perrett lasted a lifetime.
“What I thought was interesting is that we were the first generation of firefighters that came to the job with a college education and he would refer to us as the college-educated idiots but he said it very wryly and more as a joke,” Ziemer said Monday. “He was always tremendously curious and had a great interest in changing technology and the new generation of firefighting. If I would go and take a class, he would later grab my course materials, read them and then come and ask me a question. He was a natural leader and had a great interest in the changing nature of the profession.”
Ziemer said that Perrett may have come off as a hard man from outward appearances, but was a warm and caring man who empathized deeply and cared deeply for the community he served and the people he helped on the job.
For 1st District Humboldt County Supervisor Rex Bohn, Tom Perrett was a simple man worthy of respect.
“He was a real man’s man, fireman, truck driver but most of all he was a great family man. He was a hell of a guy nice guy who will be missed,” Bohn said.
A memorial service in honor of Perrett, his life and his career is scheduled for Dec. 8 at the Elk’s Lodge in Eureka.
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.