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It's a Family Affair at Firehouse; 2 Generations Take Up the Battle


In their 31 years with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Emmett and John Kinney have seen it all: brush fires, industrial fires, house fires, the Watts Riot fires and untold accidents and crime scenes.

But on Sunday, the two brothers did something they'd never done before. They worked in Willowbrook's Fire Station 41 with two of Emmett's sons, bringing four Kinney firefighters together on one shift.

"I'm going to be out of here in a short time," said station Capt. John Kinney, who plans to retire next year. "We wanted to do this before that happens."

John Kinney, 58, and brother Emmett, 56, a captain at Fire Station 9 in the Florence area, left the construction trades and got started in what has become a family business back in 1959.

"Our dad's brother was the district fire chief in Indianapolis for 36 years," John Kinney said, sitting down to a massive breakfast of fried eggs, potatoes, sausage and English muffins while his nephews toiled over the station house griddle. "Emmett and I have practically worked our whole careers in and around this area. I made captain in '69. Butch, when did you make it, '67?"

"Sixty-six" Emmett Kinney answered.

The brothers moved to southwest Los Angeles as young children. Their father, who operated knitting machines and made women's hosiery, left Indianapolis when strikebreakers defeated his efforts to organize garment workers, Emmett Kinney said.

"We're working-class people, but that's changing," he said, explaining that his youngest son will enter Pepperdine Law School in the fall and his daughter is an opera singer in Belgium.

None of John Kinney's children chose firefighting as a career, but Emmett's two other children followed their father and uncle into the County Fire Department. Joe, 27, joined seven years ago, and usually works in Huntington Park. Kevin, 26, signed on in 1985 and works out of East Los Angeles.

While the Kinneys all work within a few miles of one another, their homes are scattered all over Southern California: John lives in Mission Viejo, Emmett in Camarillo, Joe in Ontario and Kevin in Agoura Hills.

Both Joe and Kevin say they won't push the next generation of Kinneys to follow in the family tradition. But they won't try to dissuade them either.

"When I came into this, I had high expectations--I always thought my dad had a great job," Kevin Kinney said. "And the job has exceeded my expectations. You never know day-to-day what you'll be doing."

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