Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano was sleeping in his Rincon Valley home when he got a telephone call at 12:30 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2017, alerting him of what soon would become the most destructive wildfire in California history at the time.
Quickly, Sonoma County Assistant Sheriff Clint Shubel told his boss about the large and fast-moving inferno encroaching on northeast Santa Rosa.
A short time later, Giordano could see smoke-filled skies as he walked out of his house and got into his patrol car. From the police radio inside his car, the sheriff could hear the sounds of deputies breathing heavily as they raced from one home to the next in the Mark West Springs Road area, alerting and helping residents flee the flames.
“I was listening just for a couple minutes and I could hear them spread out all over,” Giordano said in an interview recalling the natural disaster that shaped his stint of little more than a year as the county’s top lawman. “I’m thinking, ‘That fire is here and it’s bad.’ ”
With the massive local post-fire rebuilding effort now headed into its second year, Giordano, 50, on Monday finished his 22-year career with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.
The most notable of the October 2017 blazes to strike the region was the Tubbs fire, which killed 22 people and destroyed more than 5,600 buildings from Calistoga to Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood.
For many colleagues and county residents, Giordano will be remembered for his speedy and direct response to that fire, providing invaluable information to the suffering community. His broadcast daily briefings thrust him into the unofficial role as the face of Sonoma County when the world turned its attention here to the historic blazes.
“He was the right leader for the time during the fires,” said Jeff Weaver, a longtime Sebastopol police chief who retired from that job in November 2017 and then last week completed a five-month period as Rohnert Park’s interim public safety director. “There’s no posturing. He’s just an honest, kind guy.”
It was Giordano’s calm personality and extensive experience with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office that landed him the job as interim sheriff in August 2017, following the retirement of his predecessor Sheriff Steve Freitas. A short time later, the county Board of Supervisors removed interim from his title.
Although the job was a natural step for him, Giordano said it was a position he never envisioned. Since his hiring as a county deputy in 1996, he had climbed the department’s ranks to assistant sheriff when Freitas announced his retirement.
After working as lieutenant of the investigations, internal affairs and personnel bureaus, Giordano became captain of the field services division in 2012, overseeing the sheriff’s patrol and dispatch bureaus. Then, two years later, he was appointed the second-in-command to Freitas. In 2017, Giordano agreed to take the interim sheriff post upon Freitas’ retirement instead of letting the department’s future land in uncertain hands.
He said his promise to Freitas included that he would not seek the post full-time in the following year’s election, making it easier for county supervisors to appoint him sheriff.
“My job was to stay and be the transition person for the next year,” Giordano said. “I made the commitment not to run, and it made the appointment decision much easier.”