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Sonoma County politicians try being firefighters for a day


Fifteen minutes in a burning building was plenty for Santa Rosa City Councilman Scott Bartley to confirm he was never destined for a career in firefighting.

Wally Lowry, a past member of the Santa Rosa School Board, needs some help getting out of a live fire training exercise on Saturday during Fire Ops 101, an event sponsored by fire departments from Santa Rosa, Bennett Valley, Petaluma and Rincon Valley as well as Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401. The training was used to give elected officials a taste of what it like to be a first responder. (KENT PORTER/The Press Democrat)

“I felt like a loaf of French bread in an oven,” a sweat-drenched Bartley said after exiting the Santa Rosa Fire Department’s live-burn training structure on West College Avenue. “This is a job I would never do.”

Bartley was one of 20 civilian leaders who geared up like firefighters Saturday for Fire Ops 101, an day-long event hosted by departments from Santa Rosa, Bennett Valley, Petaluma and Rincon Valley as well as Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401.

Participants, including Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, Petaluma Councilwoman Tiffany Renee and Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky, climbed ladders, sliced car roofs and donned respirators, all while wearing full turnouts.

It’s the fourth such event and the first since 2009, union president Jack Thomas said. The purpose was to give local leaders the chance to walk in their boots to get a better idea of what firefighters do, how they do it and why, he said.

In the live burn, for example, a blazing pyre of hay, pallets and newspaper forced the rookies ever closer to the ground to maintain visibility inside the tiny smoke-choked structure.

But when firefighters opened a hatch in the roof the thick haze sucked out, showing why firefighters so often attack the roof and why ladder trucks matter.

“You can’t really explain it,” Thomas said. “You have to come out and see what it is we do.”

(See more photos from Fire Ops 101)

The event was staffed by approximately 50 firefighters, 10 of whom were on-duty; the rest were volunteers, Thomas said. Most participants seemed fascinated with the peek into firefighters’ lives.

“It’s getting a little closer to the danger they put themselves in,” said Santa Rosa City Councilman John Sawyer after humming a Herb Albert tune to ease his fears while climbing to the top of an 11-story ladder. “You’ve got to be in shape to be doing this work.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sam Scott at 521-5431 or at sam.scott@pressdemocrat.com.

11 Responses to “Sonoma County politicians try being firefighters for a day”

  1. John says:

    Are you suggesting that Gary Wysocky is in the union’s pocket?

    Also, I doubt that these people have never used a shovel or cleaned a toilet before.

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  2. James M says:


    I would agree with you if I saw the Politico’s “volunteering” to do the jobs of other city workers, such as permitting, cleaning the toilets, fixing potholes, but no, all we see is out of shape people fighting fake fires so they can say, wow that was hard. However, this pandering they causes the politicians to favor their buddy firefighters over the annonomous taxpayer when it comes time to negotiate saparies and benefits – thet’s why they are so far out of line now.
    Time to use your vote to get the politicians out of the union’s pocket.

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  3. John says:

    @ On Duty – I think you misread the quote. The “VOLUNTEERS” mentioned are Career(Paid) firefighters volunteering their time on their day off. And yes, we are always ‘on-duty’.

    @ Money Grubber – “politicians with nothing better to do…”
    Are you saying you would rather have uneducated people making decisions on how to run the government? These people were also “Volunteering” their time to educate themselves about some of the physical aspects of a job performed by some of their employees. Seems to me that may help them to understand the details of decisions they are required to make.

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  4. When Will There Be Protests says:

    The local politicos should have done what firefighters do 95% of the time, sleep and eat at the fire station.

    If they wanted a real test of what goes on in government, follow a local citizen done to city hall who wants to get a building permit.

    This was a union prank and a photo opportnity for a bunch of out of shape politicians who don’t have real jobs themselves.

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  5. Fed UP says:

    Perhaps every politician should try and get a permit from PRMD and/or the CSR. Surly to be more enlightening than putting out a fire.

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  6. Really Big Fish says:

    Each and every politican would fail the first day of any occupation that requires physical activity. Just another union marketing program.

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  7. Jim says:

    What a waste of time and money. Did we taxpayers pay the salaries of the 10 on-duty firemen and the politicians? I can’t believe there wasn’t an uproar over this. Oh wait, yes I can. These are union members and politicians who are paid by union bribes. The media, also in the pocket of the left/unions/democrats wouldn’t ever say something as negative as “Get to work you freaking bums!!”

    So the Sheeple elect jokes like Rabbitt and Renae, who get to go waste taxpayer money by hanging out with their union buddies.

    What a joke.

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  8. James M says:

    Nice that our politicians are so cozy witht he firefighters. Maybe they will be more generous in upcoming labor negotiations?

    But then other services will suffer, perhaps our roads? “Supervisor Valerie Brown said she’d like to preserve the pavement on 246 miles of road, including both of the additions cited by Public Works, “but you’ve got to have the money to do it.”
    You don’t have money for anything else when you give it all to Police and Fire!

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  9. GAJ says:


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  10. On Duty says:

    …” event was staffed by approximately 50 firefighters, 10 of whom were on-duty; the rest were volunteers, ..”

    The PD finally gives some ‘cred’ to the volunteer fire fighters, thanks PD, that’s so great of you (sarcasm).

    Note to PD reporter on this observation.. …”10 of whom were on duty and the rest volunteers” … THE VOLUNTEERS are always on duty.

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  11. Money Grubber says:

    I’m curious if the politicians with nothing better to do than play firemen actually performed the usual task of firemen.

    You know. Sitting around the firehouse 95% of the time watching TV ?

    Now, its time to try being a carpenter framing a house.

    A plumber crawling underneath the house in the dirt.

    A car mechanic working in a cold garage on a cold concrete floor.

    A cab driver working the graveyard shift alone.

    Oh, but those are not hyped up government jobs? So true.

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