Mulases continue Schell-Vista tradition
It was obvious to everyone that no one on Earth could fill Mitch Mulas' shoes.
Mulas served as chief of the Schell-Vista Volunteer Fire Department for 69 years until he passed away in March. The next best thing, the board of directors decided, would be his sons, Ray and Mike, who combined have more experience as firefighters than even their dad.
Last week the board announced that it named Ray, who has served with the department since he was 18 in 1972, as chief. His brother Mike, who has served since he was 19 but can't remember the year he began, was named assistant chief, the position Ray held the past 10 years.
"It's been tough you know?" Ray said of being named to the position his father pioneered in the wake of his death. "The board didn't give us much input. They said this is what we're doing, we want you to carry on the tradition."
For the Mulas brothers, it's more than a tradition, it's practically a birthright. As children, Ray and Mike grew up in the old Schell-Vista Fire Station where they were often put to work.
"Even as a little kid, they'd give you something to do," Mike recalled.
They both remember watching the new fire station get built, a project their father was heavily involved in orchestrating. While Mitch never pushed his sons to join the department, both men felt the impact of growing up surrounded by the excitement of a firehouse.
"Every time that siren went off we'd all run to the front porch to see where the smoke was coming from," Ray said. "It's just in your blood."
Mike added, "You knew when you were old enough that it was time to step up and serve."
Ray vividly remembers the first fire he ever extinguished. It was the summer of 1968 and he was just a teen when a massive fire broke out and burned for days across Schellville. While his father was out fighting the colossal flames, Ray and his grandfather learned a fire had been spotted in a field where the family had a few head of heifers.
"(My grandfather) drove the old fire truck and I was in back putting the fire out," Ray said. "That was my training."
Both served as volunteers for decades while also working at the family dairy business. They both credit the many firefighters who have worked across the Sonoma Valley over the years for shaping the men they became.
"I grew up with a lot of great guys," Ray said. "We got some great firefighters in this Valley, both paid and volunteer. Sometimes you can't tell the difference."
Looking towards the future, both Ray and Mike said they intend to keep going exactly as their father would have were he still alive. Mitch's sons will work to complete the construction of affordable housing behind the fire station for the students of the Santa Rosa Junior College Fire Academy who volunteer with the department. It is one of the few projects Mitch was not able to see through in his lifetime and they already have architects working up the plans.
"But really, there's no big changes at the department planned," Ray said.
Ray added that several of his fellow Schell-Vista firefighters were promoted in recent weeks. Jason Webber was named battalion chief; former captain Matt Garner was promoted to administrative chief; and Jamal Cook and Dave Chioppi both became captains.
There is a third generation of Mulas firefighters coming up behind Ray and Mike, who both have sons who volunteer with the department, meaning Schell-Vista may never have a chief without the Mulas family name. But that remains to be seen.