In unprecedented gesture, AF&R's Station 11 opens doors to displaced OCFA personnel

By Lou Ponsi

As first responders, firefighters witness the anguish experienced by families who’ve been left homeless and without possessions after a fire has destroyed their homes.

But who comforts firefighters who’ve lost their home and their possessions?

That was the reality faced by Orange County Fire Authority personnel housed at Station 61 in Buena Park, when the 50-year-old station burned down Jan. 12.

In the same way firefighters render aid to a displaced family after a blaze, Anaheim Fire & Rescue personnel from nearby Station 11 reached out to their newly homeless brothers at Station 61.

Firefighters from OCFA’s Station 61 use AF&R’s Station 11 as a base to serve their community in Buena Park. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Firefighters from OCFA’s Station 61 use AF&R’s Station 11 as a base to serve their community in Buena Park.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

On the day of the blaze, Station 11 personnel cleared out lockers, readied a couple of bedrooms and welcomed the crew from Station 61 into their home.

The two crews from separate agencies have been sharing digs ever since, bonding, breaking bread together, sharing chores, and in some cases, even fighting fires together.

“They just lost everything, so we were just trying to make them feel as welcome as we could,” said Capt. Scott Fox, who oversees Station 11 during the C shift. “This is unprecedented in the fire service, to have another agency come in with us.”

When the fire broke out about 3 a.m., one of the fire companies from Station 61 were on a medical call and had just dropped a patient off at a hospital when they got word that their station was on fire.

They got back in a hurry.

Firefighters still at the station got out safely and were fighting the blaze wearing shorts and T-shirts. They had no safety gear.

More than 60 firefighters from several agencies, including Anaheim’s Station 11, battled the fire for much of the night.

170218 AF&R OCFA Shared Station 07A

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

When it was over, nearly the entire station and everything in it, including four vehicles, were destroyed.

“All our street clothes and everything else is in the station burned up,” said OCFA Cpt. Jeff Enriquez of Station 61. “At that point, we are sitting there wondering, ‘Where are we going to report to duty for our next shift? What engine are we going to have? Where are we going to call home?’”

Anaheim Fire Chief Randy Bruegman contacted OCFA top brass to offer Station 11 as a temporary home.

OCFA officials toured the Anaheim station, and by that night, it was a done deal.

At a given time, there could be four fire personnel from both agencies and two ambulance attendants at Station 11.

Michael Le Beauf, left, and John Bugay of OCFA’s Station 61 and Michel Bowidowicz and Denny Munson of AF&R’s Station 11, right, prepare dinner at Anaheim’s Fire Station 11. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Michael Le Beauf, left, and John Bugay of OCFA’s Station 61 and Michel Bowidowicz and Denny Munson of AF&R’s Station 11, right, prepare dinner at Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s Station 11.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The public may not realize this, but firefighters pay for and prepare their own meals and the two crews start each day by coordinating cooking duties.

Then they dine together.

Fire crews from OCFA’s Station 61 and AF&R’s Station 11 take turns preparing the meals as both fire crews work together in the same station. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Fire crews from OCFA’s Station 61 and AF&R’s Station 11 take turns preparing a meals as both fire crews work together in the same station.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“That’s our brotherhood time,” Fox said. “The fire service is the fire service. It’s the same no matter where you go.”

The two agencies will cohabitate at Station 11 for at least another three months, Enriquez said.

Then, the Station 61 crew will move into a temporary station at Walter Knott Elementary School.

Even before Station 61 was destroyed, plans were in place to construct a new station near Knott’s Berry Farm, which will eventually be the permanent home.

The two crews have gotten along so well, the Station 61 crew will be missed when they leave, Fox said.

Enrique added, “Anaheim 11 … this is their home, and to have somebody open their home to us … it’s a good feeling. We feel welcome here and we are thankful to them. That’s for sure. They’ve treated us so well.”

Firefighter John Bugay of OCFA’s Station 61, left, and Engineer/Paramedic Michel Bowidowicz of AF&R’s Station 11, cook beef stew for the crew at Anaheim Fire’s Station 11. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Firefighter John Bugay of OCFA’s Station 61, left, and Engineer/Paramedic Michel Bowidowicz of AF&R’s Station 11ccook beef stew for the crew at AFR’s Station 11.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC