Jeff Lutz sat in a popular Anaheim restaurant waiting for his check.
“Are you thinking about the light in that exit sign that is out?” he asked his lunch companions, pointing to the sign in the back.
“You’re not thinking about that, right?
“Well, I am,” he continued. “I care about people’s safety.
“The things you don’t think about, I think about. And that’s what gives me a great reward: knowing I had a say in making sure people are safe.”
Lutz, 54, is calling it a career at Anaheim Fire & Rescue. His last day is today, Thursday, Dec. 17.
He started with the agency in 1992 as a fire safety specialist.
For the last 12 years, Lutz has been the city’s fire marshal — the person responsible for overseeing a division of 22 inspectors and specialists whose jobs involve “Community Risk Reduction.”
That job breaks down into four areas:
— Educating. Educating residents about fire safety and risk reduction
— Engineering. Reviewing building plans to insure buildings are built according to the fire code.
— Enforcement. Inspecting new construction and existing buildings to make sure fire codes are being followed.
—- Evaluation. Making sure Anaheim Fire & Rescue is doing the best job possible when it comes to Community Risk Reduction.
As fire marshal, and in his previous role as fire safety specialist, Lutz has had a hand in some of the highest-profile projects in Anaheim, including the Honda Center, which was under construction when he started at AF&R in November 1992. The arena opened the following spring.
Lutz also has worked on a lot of projects at the Disneyland Resort, including the Indiana Jones attraction and California Adventure, the renovation of Angel Stadium and, more recently, the ARTIC transportation center.
“ARTIC is one of my favorite projects I’ve worked on,” Lutz said, “due to the uniqueness of the structure, the unique fire protection and life-safety challenges, and the design and construction team.”
Lutz and his colleagues currently are working on the expansion of the Anaheim Convention Center and a slew of other projects.
“As a fire marshal, you couldn’t work in a better place than Anaheim,” Lutz said. “This city has some of the most unique and varied projects around.”
Lutz was born in Circleville, Ohio and raised in Ashville.
When he was 10, his mom and dad divorced and she packed up and left for California with all five kids in a station wagon. She had relatives living in the La Crescenta area.
Lutz, the oldest child, helped raise his siblings while his mother went to school in the day to become a nurse and worked a night job.
Lutz made lunches for his siblings, did the laundry and helped his mother, Lorna Bishop, study to become an RN.
Lutz got exposed to a career in the fire service when he took an ROP class during his senior year at La Canada Flintridge High School.
“It seemed like fun,” he said.
Lutz returned to Ohio to pursue a fire science degree after graduating from high school and studied while working at a gas station. He was a car nut who, at the time, drove a 1966 Chevelle.
Lutz moved back to California in 1981 after earning his fire science degree at a technical school in Columbus.
A water-skiing mishap that resulted in a dislocated right shoulder ended Lutz’ dream of becoming a firefighter. He realized the physical rigors of the job would be too much.
Needing money, Lutz landed a job as a line cook at a Bob’s Big Boy in Pasadena.
He quickly was promoted.
“I had management potential,” he said with a laugh.
Lutz met his wife, Mary, while working at a Bob’s Big Boy. They were married in 1984.
In 1986, Lutz lost a brother when he accidently fell off a roof. He was 17.
Lutz took some time off of work to grieve and reassess his future.
It was during this time when Lutz decided to ditch restaurant work and resurrect his dream of working in the fire service.
In September 1986, the now-married Lutz got a job with a private fire protection company in West Los Angeles, performing installations and testing fire alarms and sprinklers.
Lutz went back to school to pursue a four-year degree in fire protection administration from Cal State Los Angeles.
While in school, Lutz got his big break in 1987 when the Los Angeles County Fire Department hired him as a fire protection engineering assistant.
“I didn’t yet have my degree,” Lutz said. “They kind of took a gamble on me.”
Lutz eventually got his degree in 1992 — the year he was hired by Anaheim Fire & Rescue.
By then, Lutz had amassed a lot of experience working on such marquee L.A. projects as Universal Studios, the Twin Towers Correctional Facility for Los Angeles County Jail, and Universal CityWalk.
At AF&R, he steadily rose up the ranks.
Lutz spent a year as acting fire marshal before then-Fire Chief Roger Smith named him fire marshal in 2004 — the first AF&R fire marshal to come from the engineering/professional side, as opposed to fire suppression.
Lutz and his wife have two sons.
Bryan, 26, is a software developer with Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio.
Stephen, 28, is studying in West Virginia to become a doctor.
Lutz and his wife live in Rancho Santa Margarita.
Lutz said one of his proudest accomplishments at Anaheim Fire & Rescue was managing a team that earned, in March 2014, accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.
Only 217 fire service agencies around the world have earned that accreditation, and only 14 in California have — putting Anaheim & Rescue in elite company.
Chief Randy Bruegman pushed for the accreditation as part of his vision to make AF&R one of the most progressive fire service agencies in the country.
Lutz has a big passion for seniors and their safety and also is proud of AF&R’s Home Visit Safety Program, which launched in October 2014.
That program includes free smoke alarm checks and other ways to prevent a tragedy should a fire erupt in a residence where some of society’s most vulnerable live. A recent grant will allow for expansion of the Home Visit Safety Program, Lutz said.
Lutz said he plans to get in a lot of golf after Dec. 17.
Oh, and about that sign in the popular restaurant — the exit sign with the lights out that Lutz noticed during the recent lunch.
He knows the owner, and will make sure it’s in compliance in the near future.
Of his retirement, Lutz said it’s time to step down.
“I work for an excellent organization,” he said, “but it’s time to turn over the reins to someone else.
“I feel I’ve done a lot.”