Putting out volunteer fires

A heart condition forced battalion fire Chief Tom Brittan from the job he loved in 1987, but the retired Glendale native wasn’t ready to stop supporting his community, he said.

He turned to an organization he helped found three years earlier to fill the void. The Jewel City Kiwanis Club Glendale is a volunteer service devoted to charity and community work with schools and families in the area.

Over time, Brittan recognized volunteerism was a full-time activity, and he discovered that retirement gave him the chance to give back to the community in ways he never could before with the time commitments at his job.

While Brittan said giving up his position as battalion chief was a tough decision, he doesn’t regret it for a minute.

Outside of his work with the Kiwanis Club, Brittan keeps busy by helping out at other organizations, including the Days of the Verdugos Heritage Assn. and the Glendale Elks Lodge.

After 25 years of volunteering, Brittan said it has been a long and fun experience. It’s also something he doesn’t plan on giving up any time soon.

JON HABER: Being a founding member of the Jewel City Kiwanis Club, how have you had an impact through the volunteer organization?

TOM BRITTAN: I’ve been a charter member and past president. As a club, we conduct cooking events for schools and the city of Glendale. We conduct family outings for numerous schools in the city for Back To School night and other family nights. In turn, we make a contribution for those efforts to various organizations in the school. Since retirement, my main thrust has been as fundraising chairman. I schedule all the events for cookouts and set up a [the city of Glendale’s] Cruise Night, a winter wonderland and other various city events.

Q: Why is the Kiwanis Club important to Glendale schools?

A: It gives an opportunity for families to come back to school with the kids. It’s very well-received, particularly when we make donations back. Prior to us getting involved, these schools had to use their own funds and pay private companies for these events. The other portion of our funds goes to youth programs throughout the city, such as little league, cheer leaders and other clubs at Glendale High School. It’s been an excellent service to provide that kind of service to the schools and the families.

Q: Why has the Kiwanis Club remained so organized and successful over the past 25 years?

A: We have just over 30 people, so it’s a small club. But we’re all very, very hardworking and hands on. You’ve got to get in the trenches and get out there and work at these events to be a member of our group, so everybody’s involved. Also we get family support and tremendous support from our youth groups. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.

Q: Going back to your days as a firefighter, how did it feel to protect the Glendale community as a battalion chief?

A: It was tremendous. Being a fireman, you’re always admired and looked upon with great respect, and people can’t seem to do enough to help and support your effort. Starting in 1963, it was like I went from the stone age to the space age.

The awareness of technology and the improvement of equipment and skills has been remarkable. That’s the reason why training became the true love in my job.

Q: What would you say was the most dangerous part about your job?

A: The most demanding of everything was brush fires over the years. I remember the Whiting Woods fire that happened six months after I became battalion chief [in 1982]. It lasted for days.

Q: Do you see any time in the future that you might stop serving the community?

A: I have no intentions of backing off. I don’t see any reason or inclination as long as I’m physically able to continue doing what I’m doing.

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