The retired firefighter had plans to spend several days at a gem and mineral show in Tucson with his wife and sister.
The show started in late January and ran through the first week of February.
Jim Portillo, who worked for Anaheim Fire & Rescue from 1974 to 2003, knew he had to cut his trip short.
That’s because AF&R’s 30th-annual retiree breakfast was set for Monday, Feb. 3 – and no way was Portillo going to miss it.
That sentiment is shared by many other AF&R retirees, who look forward to the annual gathering in early February at Station 6, where members of the hazmat team and other firefighters who work there cook up comfort food for breakfast for attendees, some who come from out of state.
The 9 a.m.-to-noon breakfast has become a cherished tradition for AF&R retirees to catch up with each other and swap stories in what is a true brotherhood. Firefighters spend 24-hour shifts together and get to know each other very well over the course of their careers.
The breakfast also, for the last five years, has served as a means to pay tribute to AF&R firefighters who died the previous year. Framed photos of the late firefighters are placed on a table, and a bell is rung when their names are read off. At this year’s breakfast, nine late firefighters were honored.
“I get a little weepy,” said Portillo, 67, whose son, Jim Portillo Jr., 40, is a captain at Station 6. The elder Portillo retired as a captain at Station 9.
“A lot of us (retirees) have one foot on a banana peel and the other on a bar of soap,” Portillo added.
Retirees like to crack to each other, “We want to stay off that (late firefighters’) table.”
The retiree breakfast’s roots date back to the mid-1980s, when Jim Buskirk and Charlie Kannenbly, who started at the fire academy together and retired together from AF&R in 1987, held a casual get-together for retirees at popular dining haunt Keno’s Restaurant in Anaheim Hills.
Buskirk, better known as “Buzz,” retired as an engineer, and Kannenbly as a battalion chief.
Slowly, over the years, the event grew in size.
For years, Station 8 hosted the event, which was run there by hazmat Firefighter Bob Buys.
Since 2010, the breakfast has been held at Station 6, and now the event attracts.
“We have so many tales and stories.,” one retiree said at last week’s event. “It truly is a family.”
Portillo Sr. says he’s keep coming every year. He makes a point to talk to everyone at the event, and to meet relatives of the dead who show up.
“That’s important to me,” he says.
The following are the nine firefighters honored at the Feb. 3 retiree breakfast:
Lost Brothers 2019
Captain Lew Stier
1964 to 2000 served, died June 29, 2019
Engineer Art Bartlett
1960 to 1977 served, died Sept. 26, 2019
B/C Ron Hamric
1967 to 1996 serced, died Sept. 30, 2019
Captain Jim Starr
1954 to 1977 served, died Oct. 15, 2019
F/F P/M Phil “Fuzzy” Crismon
1968 to 1987 served, died Oct. 30, 2019
F/F Arson Investigator Don Penfield
1965 to 1991 served, died Nov. 5, 2019
Captain Dick Heinze
1956 to 1987 served, died Dec. 2, 2019
Engineer Gary Braaten
1960 to 1987 served, died Dec. 27, 2019