Mary A. Castillo
Capt. Eugene D’Isabella, 70, will end his last shift with the
Laguna Beach Fire Department on Monday morning.
“I’m going to miss the whole job,” he said. “You hear guys who
don’t like coming to work in the morning, but not me. I guess I’m
His wife, Anna, will be happy to have a guarantee that he’ll be
home for Thanksgivings and Christmases. But after D’Isabella paints
the bathroom and the kitchen like he promised, he fears that he might
“After 38 years of being on duty every other day,” he said. His
shrug said the rest.
D’Isabella started when the old Seagrave was the city’s first
factory-made fire engine. He has worked under eight chiefs, rescued a
dog out of a cave and, on one memorable occasion, performed CPR on
former fire chief Ron Adams.
“I went into his office to talk to him and when I walked out, I
turned to tell him something and he fell flat on his desk,” he
recalled. After getting him on the floor and shouting for help,
D’Isabella helped save his life.
D’Isabella, also known as “Dizzy,” was first introduced to Laguna
as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. One night he drove a busload of
Marines who had volunteered to pose in Joe Rosenthal’s infamous photo
of the flag raisers at Iwo Jima for the Pageant of the Masters.
One of the pageant directors looked at him and told him he was
just the right size for the part. “Before I knew it, they painted me
green and I was on stage,” he said.
That summer he met his wife and married her. The next year he was
hired by the Laguna Beach Unified School District as a bus driver and
His manager was a volunteer firefighter. After a few months
working under him, D’Isabella joined the department as a driver in
1956. Eight years later, he was hired full time at $600 per month.
His first shift began the morning of July 12, 1964.
“I came on duty, and they told me to come back the next shift
prepared to cook and drive,” he recalled.
He didn’t sleep a wink that first night.
Unlike today’s young firefighters, he didn’t go to a fire academy
or earn a fire science degree before he was hired. He was hired as an
engineer, so technically, he never was a firefighter, or “hose man,”
as they used to be called.
“Back then, we’d all been in the service and worked other jobs,”
he said. “It’s only the dumb guys that run into burning buildings.”
Some of the things that he’s most proud of -- other than ensuring
that his “baby,” the Seagrave, was preserved by the city -- is seeing
the public become more aware of what firefighters do and helping
organize “Care Bears” with the Laguna Beach Assistance League.
Care bears ride on the trucks and are given to children to make a
traumatic experience a little more, well, bearable. The program will
be entrusted to Engineer Chris Kent who works with D’Isabella at
“He’s a good captain,” Kent said. “He’s fair and, if you do a good
job, he’ll leave you to do what you want to do.”
D’Isabella admitted that he might not be completely retired.
There’s talk that he might become a reservist so he can continue
driving the Seagrave at special events. However, Kent has set his
sights on taking the keys for the old engine.
“You have to get gray hair first,” D’Isabella joked.