Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority Chief Phil Garcia is stepping down, although his exact departure date is not yet established.

Garcia came to the department as chief in 2007 but has maintained his primary home in Southern California, where he was fire chief in Santa Ana.

"He's leaving because he has been living in Southern California during the time he worked here and the traveling was such that it was a pretty heavy load," said Cameron Jarrett, president of the Valley of the Moon Fire Protection District's board of directors.

"He's decided to hang it up," Jarrett said.

The Valley of the Moon district and the city of Sonoma signed an agreement forming the fire and rescue authority in 2002.

"He spent many, many hours on the transition," said Ray Brunton, vice president of the district board.

Garcia oversaw operations in both the Valley of the Moon and Sonoma, a 31.5-square mile area. The district serves 33,000 people and has a full time staff of 36. It also relies on 35 part-time firefighters.

Garcia, 64, had previously been chief for five years in Santa Ana and, before that, had spent 25 years with the Culver City Fire Department.

He has taken administrative leave, Jarrett said, and attempts to reach him this week were unsuccessful. He was paid $118,000 when he joined the district. Jarrett would not disclose his current salary, which is public information.

"I don't think we need to get into that," Jarrett said.

That Garcia kept his home elsewhere was "not a bit" of a problem, said Brunton. "He didn't take his days off a lot of times, he stayed here and he cut back on using his vacations just to get things done."

Still, Brunton said of the next chief, "They have to be close to work and they have to be available when we need them; they have to be here all the time."

Garcia is leaving the department on solid financial footing, Jarrett said.

"He fulfilled all expectations in an outstanding manner," he said. "In fact, he exceeded expectations."

Mark Freeman, a division chief, is acting chief right now. A decision is being made about whether to name him to the position permanently, Jarrett said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or