I was impressed with the turn out. I commented on this to Billy, who was one of the Captains in Banning when I worked there.
"Ya know Billy," I said, "it says a lot about a department when this many people show up for a reunion of members from an organization that hasn't existed in 13 years, many of whom were only here for a relatively short time. It shows how much people loved working here."
Billy agreed with me, he was hired in Banning when (they) went from one paid firefighter per shift to two. This was probably in the early '70s or so. Billy was also one of the guys who stayed on with Cal-Fire until he retired five or so years ago.
There were some guys there who I didn't know, guys who came on after I left and then left themselves; other guys who came on after I left and who ended up staying on with Cal-Fire after they took over. There were some other guys there whom I had met when coming back into town to visit, something that I initially did fairly often.
The main reason I attended, was to see guys that were there when I worked there. Old timers, many who had been there for years before my arrival. Not all of them made it, some I suspect may have had a health issue or maybe logistical problems. A few of the no-shows have retired and live out of state.
Sadly, there are a few guys that I will never see again, like Fuzzy and Stanley. Stan and I were never close, but I still think of him occasionally. I still feel a stab in the heart when I remember getting the call from Jack when Fuzzy died. He was one of the great ones, a former door gunner who carried NVA shrapnel in his body till the day he died. Billy and I both got quiet when his name was mentioned.
It would have nice to have seen Carl, he was acting Chief when I left. He ended up taking an early retirement from Banning and ended up serving as the Fire Chief in Branson, Mo for 15 years. He just retired last year, maybe I'll get to Branson one of these days and pay him a visit.
I and many others were sad to see that Dennis didn't make it. I heard that he is currently living in Utah and was planning to attend. Maybe something came up - regardless I regret not getting to see him.
I was a little curious how it was going to go with Bob, we didn't get along all that great when I worked there. Looking back, I am quite ready to take the blame for that. I suspect that as a brash youth, I was unable to recognize that we were very much alike and I probably should have known just to keep my mouth shut. Though much better now, that is something that I have had to work on for my entire career. Bob ended up retiring from Cal-Fire as a B.C. and still lives in town. We had a nice chat, it was good speaking with him. I wish him well.
I really liked working there, it was simply a matter of money and opportunity when I left. A $300 dollar a month difference in take home pay made a big difference. $300 was a big chunk of change in 1983.
Banning is a one station department. As I was leaving for a department ten times that size, there would be far more opportunities for promotion and for different assignments where I was going.
I missed the people, they were great and they made me feel at home while I was there. I admired the way they got stuff done, including building a quick-attack and a water tender around the time I was there. It was old school the way they made do.
The irony is that had I stayed, I would have ended up working for Cal-Fire, a department staffing almost 90 stations in our county, and one with even more opportunities. That's what most of the guys who worked there in 1998 did. Financially it was probably the best thing that could have happened to their careers.
While I have a lot of respect for that agency, I think I ended up in the best place for me. I'm sure either way would have worked out fine.
So, the next time you're driving to Palm Springs from L.A. and you pass through Banning, please remember that though it still has excellent fire/ems protection, it was once served by a small group of highly motivated individuals, who were used to gettin' er done. A great group of guys to be sure.
Thanks for Reading,