It Was Cold Turkey at County Fire Station 22

Times Staff Writer

“I’ve been doing this 15 years, and I think I’ve had two Thanksgivings off,” said Orange County Fire Capt. Terry Carson.

It is just another shift, he said. No holiday pay, nothing special at Station 22 in Laguna Hills, the county Fire Department’s busiest.

Well, there are some unusual aspects to the day, Carson conceded. The usual inspection and training chores are suspended for the day, and that gives you time to baste the 24-pound turkey and eight-pound ham in the oven and watch part of the football games on TV. That is, if the overhead speaker that shouts out fire calls does not interrupt too many times.


“Thanksgiving is weird,” Carson said. “It either goes bonkers and we’re out all day, or there’s nothing.”

On the hope that it would be “nothing” this year, the families of some of the 12 firefighters came visiting Thursday, some bringing goodies to add to the meal being prepared in the firehouse kitchen.

Donna James brought her daughters, Marcie, 5, and Brittany, 2, to be with their father, firefighter Roger James, for at least part of the day.

“He’s been here five years,” she said. “His first year he worked Thanksgiving, and that’s when they had the big brush fires. I don’t think I’ve ever cooked a Thanksgiving turkey.”

“But this is nice,” she said, nodding toward her husband who was across the firehouse’s day room. She had been at the station nearly two hours, “and this is the longest I’ve ever sat here without him having to leave.”

“Last Thanksgiving, it was really busy,” explained Firefighter Terry Gorgen. “We didn’t get to eat until 10 o’clock or something.”


But this Thanksgiving, it was quiet--so far. There was a tricycle beside Engine 222, and nearby, one of the firefighters’ young sons was dribbling a basketball. Some other boys were in the training room, drawing on the blackboard.

There had been only a couple of paramedic calls and a couple of traffic collisions. Each time, the men returned to the station shortly.

“Listen to this,” said Carson.

There was nothing to hear. The Fire Department radio was silent and had been for a long time. “It’s quiet all over the whole county.” As if to confirm it, a voice came up on the fire radio frequency. “Gobble, gobble, gobble,” the voice said.

“Wait till we sit down to eat,” said Capt. Tom Pawloski.

“He’s right,” Carson said. “Very seldom do the 12 of us have dinner together.”

But at 3:30 p.m., the kitchen was full of firefighters and their wives carving and dishing up the feast. Everyone was in the station. Capt. Greg Lonza was unwilling to be optimistic. “We should have eaten at 2. Then we would have been all right,” he said. “When people are through porking out, that’s when we start getting the paramedic calls.”

Lonza had barely gotten the words out when, at 3:34, the alarms went off. It was a fire in the Lake Forest area. “We’re all going,” Lonza said. Inside of two minutes, every truck and firefighter was gone.

“This is what it’s like,” said Pam Lonza, one of three wives abandoned at the dinner table.


“But we will eat,” said Jennie Hanson. “It may be in shifts, but we’ll eat.”