For the succeeding generation of Schneiders, the dose of firefighter indoctrination increased exponentially: They got it not only from their fathers and grandfather but from their uncles as well.
"When you grow up in a firefighter family like ours, you hear all the war stories," says Larry's son Phil, 31, an 11-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. "The fires, the rescues--the job is what everybody talks about. It's exciting to a kid. It makes you want to be a part of it."
"I spent more Christmases and birthdays at the fire station when I was a kid than I did at home," says Paul R. Schneider, 27, a Los Angeles County firefighter since 1988. "The fire station was home in a lot of ways."
Children of firefighters cite several reasons why they wanted to become firefighters themselves.
For one thing, it's steady work--there will always be fires, and thus firefighters. It's also pretty good money. According to the State Firefighters Assn., firefighters in the Los Angeles area make $45,000 to $50,000 a year, base salary; fire captains average about $70,000.
But the major reason the children of firefighters want to become firefighters is admiration. They admired Dad and his firefighter colleagues, and they admired the way Dad and his friends were admired by others. On any elementary school playground in America, to have a dad who was a firefighter was considered far cooler than to have a dad who was a lawyer or a banker or even the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Sure, there are some drawbacks to the firefighter's life--for example, the near certainty that sometime in your career you're going to get hurt. In 1992, the last year for which figures are available, 1,641 firefighters were injured in California--about one out of every 30 on the job.
Every one of the Schneiders has been injured while fighting fires. Howard N. Schneider, for example, was forced to retire this year because of heart and lung damage he suffered when he tore off his protective face mask to warn his fellow firefighters about toxic materials in a 1985 industrial fire in Torrance. Phil Schneider suffered first- and second-degree face burns battling brush fires. Larry D. Schneider was severely burned when a roof he was working on collapsed and he fell into the fire. And so on throughout the Schneider family, a litany of burns and bruises and scrapes and breaks and seared lungs.
Despite the risk, or maybe at least partly because it is a dangerous and daring occupation, the children of firefighters seem driven to do whatever is necessary to follow their fathers into the station house.
Scott Schneider, for example, wanted to be a firefighter so badly that he "divorced" his firefighter father.
It's not quite like it sounds. Howard N. Schneider adopted Scott when he was 2 years old, and like every other Schneider kid, Scott grew up wanting to be a firefighter like his dad.
"It was all I ever wanted to do," Scott says.
In 1975 Scott got a job as a firefighter at Hughes Aircraft Corp., but his ambition was to become a city firefighter somewhere. A few years later, there was an opening at the Torrance Fire Department. Scott was qualified for the job, but there was one problem: Torrance had a nepotism ordinance specifying that immediate family members of city workers couldn't hold jobs in the same department. And Scott's dad, Howard, was a Torrance Fire Department captain.
So Scott called a buddy of his and started legal proceedings to have the buddy and his wife adopt him. When the adoption went through, it legally severed Scott's earlier adoption by Howard; Scott was, legally speaking, no longer Howard's son, and thus could join the Torrance department. The Torrance nepotism ordinance later was thrown out, and Scott was readopted by Howard.
Being the son or daughter of a firefighter still can be a disadvantage in getting a firefighter's job, at least in the same department.
Last fall, for example, there was an outcry in Long Beach when seven of the 21 applicants chosen to attend the city's firefighting academy turned out to be the sons of Long Beach firefighters. The 21 had been selected from more than 600 applicants who were considered qualified, who in turn had been chosen from 5,000 total applicants--an indication of just how tough the competition for firefighters' jobs is.
The percentage of firefighters' sons in the group was not unusual. Ken Brondell, a Los Angeles City Fire Department firefighter and a director of the State Firefighters Assn., remembered that when he attended firefighting academy 25 years ago, one-third of his classmates were sons of firefighters. That was about average, he says.
Firefighters say it's only natural for their offspring to do well in fire department selections.
"There's probably an advantage for them because they tend to be more tenacious in seeking the jobs," Brondell says. "They start sooner, and they focus themselves on getting the education they need to make them more acceptable."