His career began as a seasonal firefighter at the Petaluma station of the California Department of Forestry (CDF) in 1966, where he worked until Uncle Sam called him into to the Air Force and sent him to Vietnam. He returned to CDF in 1971, but a new duty would call him away from his passion once again- this time, the financial responsibility of raising a family. For a brief spell in Sacramento, Cochran toiled as a sheet metal mechanic for Southern Pacific Railroad, but the call of the fire station never left his ears. In 1974, he took the test to become a full-time firefighter and shortly after passing, won a job with the Manteca Fire Department, where he worked for the next 10 years, rising to the rank of lieutenant.
This sleepy San Joaquin County community would leave Cochran with one of his first and most indelible memories.
A local movie theater had caught on fire and Cochran and colleagues were on the roof doing ventilation tasks. Always with a quick eye for the warnings that labels and other affixed information can contain, Cochran deemed the roof too spongy to hold the firefighters, and he immediately ordered his men off of it. Right after safely reaching the ground, the roof collapsed. The movie playing at the time was Towering Inferno.
In 1984, Cochran joined the State Fire Marshal’s Office, where he remained for the next 24 years, working 20 central and north-central California counties from offices in Modesto, Fresno, and lastly, Chico. The only time he passed on a transfer was when he was asked to move to Monrovia in Los Angeles County. Born in Santa Rosa and having moved all around Northern California, because of his father’s work for Pacific Gas & Electric, had given Cochran a decided taste for life north of the Tehachapi Mountains.
At the same time Cochran joined the Fire Marshal’s Office, he also joined the one-year-old California Union of Safety Employees, the forerunner to CSLEA. For the past three years, he has been president of the CSLEA affiliate Fire Marshal and Emergency Services Association. During his tenure as FMESA president, Cochran has directed an updating of affiliate bylaws, brought Cal Fire communications operators into the fold, established monthly news e-mails, and revitalized the FMESA Web site, among other things.