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A Bit of Smoke Gets in Their Eyes : Nostalgia Reigns as P. V. Estates Firefighters Join County

July 03, 1986|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

PALOS VERDES ESTATES — Firefighters here were packing up their memories this week.

For Chief Monty Cookus, a 28-year department stalwart, there was the Malaga Cove brush fire of 1970, when the rugged hillside burned on and off for a day and a half. "We'd get it subdued, and then it would flare up again," he said.

For Capt. Dennis Colmerauer, whose city service started more than 21 years ago, the etchings on his mind were of violent deaths on the city's rugged seaside cliffs--times when the department was too late to the rescue.

Christmas Eve Suicide

"There was a suicide one Christmas Eve," he recalled. "A guy drove his Volkswagen over a cliff. We had to cut him out of it and when we did, we found Christmas toys in the back seat. That was hard to take at Christmas, because I had to be away from my family and here was this guy who felt so bad he had to kill himself."

And there was the teen-age girl who ran so fast down a trail that she couldn't stop, fell 100 feet and died. "She had a bottle of wine in one hand and a guitar in the other," Colmerauer recalled.

Joe Felando, a department youngster with less than two years in uniform, had more pleasant memories--about the first time he was sent in to rid a house of a pesky peacock.

Wearing protective clothing--"they can really bite"--he blocked off hallways and stalked the alternately walking and flying bird through the house. "When it took off, I could really feel the power of the wings," he said.

The rush of memories was understandable. So was the sign changing and the taking stock of equipment. And so were the goodbys, for most of the men--some co-workers for years--were about to be scattered around Los Angeles County.

After nearly half a century--including many years as an all-volunteer force--the Fire Department marked the end of its independence and joined the county Consolidated Fire Protection District, which already includes the three other Palos Verdes Peninsula cities of Rancho Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills Estates and Rolling Hills.

In ceremonies Monday, county Chief John W. Englund welcomed Palos Verdes Estates--one fire station, 4.7 square miles and 14,500 people--to the county district: 130 stations, 2,100 square miles and 2.5 million people.

Mayor Ruth Gralow, in turn, said the county now will "be able to serve in the most beautiful city in Los Angeles County."

Officials said that the change--in the works for months and officially approved in May--means better fire protection from more stations with more men and more equipment. But it also ends a long chapter in the city's life in which people knew their firefighters by first names and kept them well supplied with cookies and cakes.

Last Group Photo

"We'll miss our special boys," said Councilwoman Barbara Culver as the 18 men of the department, wearing blue shirts and ties, stood in line and faced a battery of photographers--some professional, many family and friends--for the last time as a group. Earlier, the City Council gave them plaques.

Firefighters say that in recent weeks, many residents have come by the station. "They wished us well and said they were sorry to see us leave," said Tom Cook, a city firefighter for 19 years who has transferred to Carson.

"I'm sad to leave the city where I grew up and spent my career in, but I'm excited about the new job," said Chief Cookus, whose father was assistant fire chief during the volunteer days. Cookus has gone to Carson as a captain.

Six of "our boys" are staying at the Palos Verdes Estates station, and they have been joined by nine men transferring in from other county stations, for a full complement of 15. In its contract with the county, the city stipulated that six men with good local knowledge--two on each shift--remain to help the new ones learn the local street system and community lore and ensure quick responses from the start.

After all, who but a local knows that "crack in the pavement" is the nickname for the 500 block of Paseo del Mar, where surfers have a trail down to the beach. "The road used to be cracked, but it's been paved for years," said Colmerauer, who has transferred to the county Windsor Hills station.

Many city firefighters requested transfers to other county stations to be nearer their homes. But Cookus said of the six who are staying, only one wanted to leave the city.

Widely Dispersed

Besides Carson, the remaining Palos Verdes Estates firefighters have gone to county stations in such locales as Lawndale, Commerce, Whittier, Lawndale and San Dimas. One, Bill Rankin, now works in Lancaster, where he has lived during his four years with the Palos Verdes Estates department.

One man, Fire Inspector Don Winton, was placed on disability retirement by the city, said City Manager Gordon Siebert.

Cookus said the others wanted to transfer for career advancement or to be nearer their homes.

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