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Orange County Focus

COSTA MESA : Firefighters to Live 5 Days in a Basket

December 20, 1990|LILY DIZON

As temperatures rapidly dropped and rain loomed, two firefighters were hoisted 90 feet above the Orange County Fairgrounds on Wednesday and into a snorkel basket, where they vowed to spend the next five days.

Costa Mesa firefighters Joe Cucinotti and Jim Aldrich hope to raise $50,000 in pledges for the Orange County Burn Assn.

"This is something I've made myself available for," said Cucinotti, 30. "I'm doing this out of admiration for people who have survived burns from a fire."

Cucinotti, who participated in the first "snorkel sitting" last year, said he volunteered again because "it's my turn to serve other people."

According to Fire Chief Richard Jorgensen, more than 700 people in Orange County are burned every year, and the burn association works with the victims and their families to help them deal with the trauma.

Although the weather forecast has predicted nighttime temperatures to be in the 30s and a strong possibility of rain, Cucinotti said "come rain or shine, this is where we'll live for the next five days."

Aldrich, also 30, said he looks forward to the experience but is apprehensive about the weather.

"The cold I can handle," Aldrich said. "It's the rain I'm worried about."

Jorgensen said he is also following the weather reports.

"The way it is now, even if it rains, they have an umbrella," he said, referring to a six-foot white golf umbrella anchored to the floor of the snorkel basket. "But if it gets really bad, we have a command unit on the ground, and (the men) can come down for a while."

But Aldrich said the pair would "brave the elements and stick it out. Anyway, this gives me a feeling of self-fulfillment for doing something for a good cause."

When they're not busy entertaining the crowd with their bullhorns, Cucinotti and Aldrich will be stringing lights to make a 60-foot Christmas tree to hang from the top of the truck's basket to the ground.

Both firemen said they will stay busy to avoid thinking about the cold and their sleeping arrangement. The 4-by-5-foot snorkel basket is too small to accommodate either man, so their makeshift cots will be exercise mats placed strategically on the rungs of the firetruck's ladder, which has rails on both side.

"The sign (saying "Costa Mesa Fire Department") should block out the wind," Cucinotti said with semi-conviction. "And the tarp to be placed over the rails should keep out the rain, if it rains."

However, last year, "we woke up soaking wet and ice cold," he said. "But we'll just bundle up in our ski clothes to keep warm."

Jorgensen, who is also the burn association's president, said: "As firemen, they have an affinity for (burn victims) because they come into contact with them. This gives them an opportunity to do something."

Other firefighters will be waiting with helmets to collect donations from the public.

Events are planned for the rest of the week to help the two men fight boredom. Firefighters from 27 cities will visit the site on Friday, and Santa Claus will visit on Saturday.

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