Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

Retiring firefighter reflects on 35-year career

In his 35 years on the job, retiring Burbank Fire Capt. Ron Bell witnessed the departure of Lockheed and the machine shops that soon followed.

He has seen changes in how firefighters protect themselves when battling blazes and worked with the department’s lone female firefighter.

Part of his duties as a spokesman for the department included working with the studios and ensuring safety procedures are followed with special-effects sequences.

He was also a point man for residents at grocery stores, calmly providing information when fires were raging around their homes.


Bell, who was born and raised in Burbank, initially thought of following in his father’s footsteps.

“My daddy was a Burbank cop,” said Bell, 60. “I was gonna go police, but my dad said to go a different way.”

After two years in Vietnam, Bell had the option of working with the Los Angeles Fire Department or staying in Burbank.

In the end, his loyalty to Burbank outweighed other considerations, and Bell spent time as a fire paramedic and with the urban search-and-rescue team before working as the public face of the department for the last decade.


He smiled as he noted how different the job was when he first started.

“Before we only wore jackets and gloves,” he said. “Your ear lobes would burn, and that was the way to tell if it was too hot.”

Bell took a moment before recalling some trying moments in his career.

“I performed CPR on an infant unsuccessfully — I can still taste it,” he said.

Bell also recalled a time when he was riding in an ambulance with a teenager. She was on roller skates when she was hit by a truck.

“She was awake and talking to me, but she didn’t make it,” he said. “I watched her die.”

But he

also helped deliver about half a dozen babies.


“It’s a really, really neat thing and makes up for so many bad calls,” Bell said.

Bell, who loves to fish and plans to do more of that at his Big Bear home, said he has no regrets.

“Other than maybe taking the batallion chief’s test when I should’ve,” Bell said.

And maybe a second regret.

“There are young members I didn’t get to be deployed to a campaign fire with — you’re there for days,” Bell said. “Because of my position in the fire marshal’s office for 10 years, I didn’t get to ride a fire engine with them.”

His replacement, veteran Capt. Peter Hendrickson from Station 16, will begin in a few weeks.