The Thomas Bros.: You may need a map to tell them apart


OK, this is getting confusing.

Did Jeff just say that?

Or was it Jack?

Even the names on their badges don’t help.

They both read:

J. Thomas

Jeff Thomas — it’s confirmed — is talking about when he was testing to be considered for battalion chief for Anaheim Fire & Rescue.

He had a go-to guy for solid advice:

His identical twin brother.

That would be Jack Thomas, a battalion chief for the City of Orange’s Fire Department for eight years.

“When I took the test for him,” Jack jokes, “I almost didn’t let him pass.”

The brothers, 52, have something more in common then genes and the gift of good-natured banter:

Jeff Thomas, in August, made battalion chief — which makes the Thomas brothers that rare combination of identical twin battalion chiefs working in the same county.

The Thomas twins also are distinguished in that both have worked just about every job possible in their respective agencies before achieving the rank of BC, who supervise captains, firefighters, engineers and fire inspectors and report to deputy chiefs.

A tone goes off on one of the portable radios they each are carrying.

“That could be either of us,” Jeff Thomas says.

Turns out it was a residential gas leak call in Anaheim.

Nothing major.

The Thomas brothers’ distinguished careers as firefighters weren’t exactly preordained.

“My dad didn’t like seeing firefighters come around his shop,” Jeff Thomas said.

Their father, he explained, owned a small camper shell manufacturing business. Firefighters regularly would check in to make sure the hazardous materials used by the business posed no safety risks.

Both brothers, who attended Western High School in Anaheim, kind of fell into firefighting.

Jeffrey Charles Thomas was a standout high school athlete in basketball and baseball and played sports at Orange Coast College before deciding to become a firefighter.

Jack Louis Thomas also was athletic, but not as talented on the field as his brother.

“But I’m a better golfer than he is,” says Jack, who at 6 feet tall is 2½ inches shorter than Jeff.

Jack was the first to get the firefighting bug, inspired by the father of a girl he fancied. He was a fire captain for the City of Orange.

That girl, Lesa, would become Jack’s wife. The couple, married for 29 years, now have a daughter, 28, and a son, 26.

Jack Thomas was a physical education major at Southern Utah University who started as a reserve firefighter for the City of Montclair.  He began his career at the City of Orange Fire Department in 1988.

Jeff Thomas majored in fire science at Santa Ana College and began his career as a reserve firefighter in Fountain Valley in 1985. He was hired as a full-time firefighter in Buena Park in 1986 before joining Anaheim Fire & Rescue in 1988.

In his relatively new position of battalion chief — Anaheim Fire & Rescue has six BCs — Jeff Thomas oversees five stations and about 40 personnel in the west side of the city.

Jack Thomas, one of Orange’s three BCs, oversees eight stations and about 125 personnel.

Because about 80 percent of calls to their fire departments require multi-agency responses, the brothers often see each other on the job.

“We both have great respect for each other’s agency,” Jeff Thomas said.

Or was it Jack who said it?

Because they are in positions of authority, the Thomas Bros. were careful to keep their bantering in check during an interview, and to keep their official comments curt and direct.

Jeff Thomas, who is married with three sons ages 25, 23 and 21, says of his job: “Every day is different and challenging. I enjoy the variety.”

Says Jack Thomas: “I get to work with a lot of great people.”

The brothers, who live a half-mile apart in Anaheim Hills and socialize a couple of times a week, got more animated when discussing their lifelong friendly rivalry.

“I’m 45 minutes older,” Jack Thomas noted.

“My mother didn’t know she was having twins until she delivered both of us,” Jeff Thomas pointed out.

She also didn’t know she would have two battalion chiefs as sons.