Effective immediately and ratified unanimously by the City Council, Wright Crakes, a member of a Santa Maria family which served the city of Santa Maria’s fire department since 1912, was appointed the new fire chief in June of 1972 to replace Chief Harry Bell who had retired due to ill health. He had served 31 years with the department.
Instead of filling Crake’s Assistant Chief position, two Battalion Chief positions were created, thereby promoting Charlie Weaver and Joe Johnson.
Chief Crakes, 39, had joined the department in 1955 and worked his way up to chief from serving as the department’s first official paid firefighter. Before that time he was an unpaid volunteer.
Crakes, who had served as assistant fire chief since September of 1963, served as acting chief since Bell’s resignation. Officials said that he scored the highest in oral and written examinations and was chosen from among the 110 applicants from many points in the U. S., including 30 who were already serving as fire chiefs in their respective cities.
His father, the late Clarence S. Crakes, served with the formerly all-volunteer department for 46 years, the last 15 as assistant chief. He retired in 1958. His uncle Frank, chief from 1920 until 1956, was with the department 44 years.
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Wright Crakes was student fire chief while attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, until drafted into the Army in 1953.
Crakes, a native Santa Marian and second-generation firefighter, served as chief here until he retired in 1993. During his years of service, he arranged for the installation of radios in the fire trucks, worked to automate the city’s water system in times of fires, and hired the city’s first women firefighters. In addition, he was the moving force behind establishing the Fire Academy at Hancock College, bringing to fruition five years of planning and development of the program for the training of firefighters for the two counties. Before that, Wright helped organize an oil training grounds at the Santa Maria Public Airport.
During his term as chief, the first ladder truck was added in combination with the construction of the first 7-story high rise, Union Plaza. In addition, the number of fire stations within the city grew from one to three.
Crakes retired in December of 1993, died April 24, 2001 and is buried in the Santa Maria Cemetery.