Ringing the bell for firefighters

BARBARA DIAMOND

Fire Captain Dan Stefano probably should have received hazardous duty

pay for his service as the firefighters' public information officer a

few years ago when management was at odds with the rank and file.

However, that is not why the Exchange Club honored him as the 2005

Firefighter of the Year at a luncheon March 17 at Hotel Laguna.

"He contributes to the fire service every day," said Mike Macey,

the Fire Department's next fire chief.

Stefano's contributions include organizing the department's

wellness program with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management

Agency, taking charge of reporting statistical data, representing the

department to a fire chiefs association, coordinating reserve

firefighters, mentoring new ones and teaching fire technology at the

community college level.

"But when the bell rings, can he do the job? Absolutely," Macey

said.

Stefano was nominated for the prestigious Orange County Fire

Service Overachievers Award in 1999.

He began his career in Laguna Beach as a reserve firefighter in

1995 and was hired full-time in 1997. He was promoted to fire

engineer in December 2000 and to captain less than six months later.

Stefano has a bachelor's degree in speech communication from Cal

State Long Beach and a master's degree from USC.

He lives in Laguna Beach with his wife Michelle and their daughter

Sofia, both of whom attended the luncheon.

"Make no mistake -- fire service is a team job," Stefano said.

"I'm only a representative of the other 40 people in the department."

Stefano was presented with proclamations by Exchange Club

President Katy Moss, Mayor Elizabeth Pearson-Schneider, Sharon

Ashauer on behalf of Supervisor Tom Wilson and a representative of

state Assemblyman Chuck Devore's office.

"A lot of cities in South County do not have their own fire and

police departments," Pearson-Schneider said. "People here are proud

that we do."

A volunteer fire department was created in Laguna Beach in 1919.

The first station was built in 1931 where the Laguna Beach County

Water District building is located.

T.E. Seaman was the first chief. He had five firefighters. The

department went "pro" in 1948, but reserve firefighters still play an

important role.

"Reserve is a nice way of saying volunteer," Macey said. "The

reserves volunteer their time and talent. They carry a pager 24/7,

365 days. It doesn't go off at opportune times. Its 3 a.m. in a

driving rain or sitting down to dinner or as your kid is teeing off

in his first game."

Tim Jones was honored as the 2005 Reserve Firefighter of the Year,

with proclamations to prove it. Zolita Scott did the honors for the

club.

Jones joined the department in 1996. He was promoted to apparatus

operator in 1998. He mentors reserve firefighters, and as a licensed

contractor, he has had a hand in repairs to station houses.

His special guests at the luncheon included his fiancee Sandy

Holt, his father Vito and his mother Rita.

"I've picked up something from each individual in the department,"

Jones said.

Macey also paid tribute to retiring Chief Ken MacLeod, whom he

will replace. MacLeod's last day on the job will be April 29.

His fire service did not begin in Laguna. He retired from county

Fire Authority, where he oversaw a staff of 1,600, 61 stations and a budget of $111 million, compared to 41 firefighters, four stations

and a $7 million budget in Laguna.

Club member Hal Werthe presented MacLeod with an award of

recognition. A State Assembly resolution declared him worthy of

recognition and Ashauer presented him with Wilson's proclamation.

"It's harder to leave here than it was to leave after 33 years

with the county." MacLeod said. "In a department of this size, in a

city of this size, you get to know everyone."

MacLeod said he had been snookered by Macey. He thought he was

attending the luncheon to make a presentation to department secretary

Carrie Joyce.

"She is the most important person in our department," MacLeod

said. "None of us can live without her. She is the day-care provider

for 40 firefighters."

Joyce began working for the city in the police department in 1980.

"In 1989, she came to her senses and transferred to the fire

department," MacLeod said.

Police Captain Danell Adams will make him pay for that comment,

MacLeod opined.

Joyce's husband Bill, her son Scott, friend Suzanne Binko and

fellow Ebell Club members Cristina Calderone, Mitchellene Channels,

Janeen Hamera, Margaret Warder and Holly Piscopo were among the

guests at the luncheon.

Not to mention retired Fire Captain Bing Boka.

"He considers himself one of the family," MacLeod said.

Penny Stastny, an Ebell member, presented the award from the

Exchange Club, to which she also belongs. Joyce was recognized by

Devore's and Wilson's offices for 30 years of service to the city.

"I have the best position in the city," Joyce said. "All of our

employees are wonderful."

Many of them were at the luncheon.

Deputy City Clerk Mindy LaTendresse was among a contingent of city

employees that included Joe Chiquette, marine safety chief Mark

Klosterman, Police Captain Paul Workman, Lt. Mike Hall, Sgt. Guy

Miller, crime statistician Hilda Madrid, administrative secretary

Bernadette McCusker, code enforcement aide Mariann McNaughton and

investigative division secretary Nit Farnes.

Bree Burgess Rosen served as mistress of ceremonies. Sande

St.John, Jim Rue, Nori Townsend, and Hal and Sandi Werthe organized

the luncheon.

Athens Group and Montage Resort & Spa sponsored the event. Gerald

Messineo, Village Laguna, Municipal Employees, Laguna Beach

Firefighters and the Police associations sponsored tables. Keire

Unique at Albertsons market supplied the flowers presented to the

guests of honor.

SICK BAY

Retired Marine Corps Gen. Grant McCombs is hospitalized at Mission

Hospital. Cards should be sent to his home. The address is in the

telephone book.

* OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline

Pilot. Contributions are welcomed.

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