On May 7, about 400 supporters gathered at Dos Pueblos Ranch in western Goleta for the biennial Fire Ball, the main fundraiser of the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance (SBFA). This was quite the lively and entertaining event from the moment of arrival, when guests were greeted by a host of firefighters to the end of the evening, which featured an awesome extensive performance by Jackson Browne. Proceeds from this year’s event will fully fund a $125,000 mobile incident command vehicle.
The SBFA is a nonprofit organization that funds critical equipment for the Santa Barbara City and County Fire Departments. Based on requests from firefighters, it funds innovative, cutting edge technical equipment not available through the departments that enables firefighters to more effectively and more safely do their jobs. Since its inception 13 years ago, the SBFA has purchased more than $1.3 million worth of equipment for the City and County.
By the mid-afternoon start of the event last Sunday, the clouds lifted and the temperature rose for a delightful cocktail hour on the sprawling grounds of Dos Pueblos Ranch. Many firefighters from both departments were on hand along with a plethora of equipment purchased by the SBFA over the years, including jet skis and their transport trailers for water rescues.
Riley, a black labrador retriever used for accelerant detection, was on hand with his partner, Captain Howard Orr. The SBFA purchased Riley’s state-of-the-art Suburban vehicle, which has double-tinted windows with UV protection to keep the vehicle cool and sensors that are temperature-triggered to start the engine, turn on the air-conditioning and fan, and roll down the windows to ensure Riley’s comfort. The sensors also trigger a horn blast and send a page to Orr.
Upbeat music from Green Flag Summer played throughout the reception and as a barbecue feast was served buffet style by firefighters. Guests dined on linen-draped tables under an open-air tent erected in case of foul weather, which thankfully never came.
Andrew Firestone welcomed the guests. Santa Barbara City Fire Chief Pat McElroy expressed his heartfelt thanks to the SBFA, which he explained allows his department to experiment with equipment that is not standard, but that later can sometimes become part of the department’s normal budget. Among the equipment he highly praised the SBFA for were night vision goggles that allowed firefighters in the Tea Fires and Jesusita Fires to continue working after dark — to fight the fires 24 hours a day — which made a tremendous difference in their ability to contain the blazes.
This year’s event successfully reached its goal of funding the purchase of a $125,000 mobile incident command vehicle. Currently, the multiple agencies that respond to a fire do their planning from the hood of someone’s car, or for larger fires, they transition to a fixed structure. The mobile post will be self-sustaining with radios, computers, printers and plotters. While the usefulness of the vehicle is unquestioned, because it will be used by multiple agencies, none wanted to step up and fund it. Thankfully the SBFA exists and stepped up.
Among the equipment purchased by the SBFA in past years are thermal imaging cameras which detect heat through a door, wall and smoke; hot sticks that determine whether electrical wires are energized; and GPS devices that allow firefighters to know their position in relation to others.
Paul Cashman, the SBFA’s President, is driven to do the hard fundraising work year after year because he knows that without the SBFA’s efforts, the firefighters would not have this equipment — equipment that saves lives by making the firefighting effort more effective, efficient and safe.
Cashman was recognized during the program by McElroy, who declared that nobody has worked harder or lost more years off his life than Cashman. He presented Cashman with a fire chief helmut attached to a plaque that states, “with gratitude and appreciation for your generosity and support from firefighters and paramedics from every Fire Department in Santa Barbara County.”
Firestone rallied the crowd during an auction with tempting, atypical items such as dinners prepared and served by City and County firefighters at their firehouses and a training day with the Santa Barbara SWAT Team.
As entertaining as Firestone is, tonight he was just the opening act for the main show, a concert by Jackson Browne with Greg Leisz. Browne has a home that firefighters defended in the Gaviota Fire and he wanted to perform to show his appreciation to the firefighters. The amazing concert capped an incredibly entertaining and enjoyable affair.
For more information about the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance, go to sbfirefightersalliance.org.
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