Good to see you!
You’ve changed a lot.
They descended on Station 6 in Anaheim on a recent Friday morning, one traveling all the way from Nampa, Idaho and many turning the retiree breakfast into a weekend-long celebration of fun, memories — most definitely, a round of golf or two.
“We tell them this starts at 8 a.m.,” said Capt. Mike Molloy of Anaheim Fire & Rescue as he worked a grill. “But they start showing up at 6.
“And when they get here,” Molloy added, “they don’t want to leave.”
Food’s ready. Let’s eat!
This is a hoot.
How am I? I’m alive.
A tradition that started as “Breakfast With Jim and Charlie” nearly 30 years ago by two retired AF&R firefighters in a diner has blossomed, today, into a beloved annual gathering of about 150 retirees who dish out as much love as they do good-natured grief.
The retirees relive old stories (for the umpteenth time), catch up on current shenanigans, hand out pictures and birthday cards to sign, and chow down on pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon and other goodies.
“I don’t miss the job,” said Web Whitlock, a 1997 retiree and one of the driving forces behind the get-together, held March 4 this year. “But I miss the people. You do the job together 30 to 35 years, and then it’s over.
“This is our one chance to see each other every year other than at funerals.”
The firefighters at Station 6 cleared out the apparatus bay (“garage,” in layperson’s terms) to make room for tables and chairs as well as a picture display of the 15 AF&R retirees who passed away in 2015.
Station 6 personnel whipped up the classic comfort food.
AF&R Chief Randy Bruegman and other members of his command staff mingled with retirees and current firefighters.
“It’s nice to see the old guys again — and I’m one of the old guys now,” said Jim Portillo, 63, who retired in 2003 as a captain at Station 9.
His hair rock-star long, Portillo — who plays bass in the ’60s-themed rock band Day Trip’ N — scanned the room of familiar faces and echoed what Whitlock said.
“We were a family for all those years, and suddenly after retiring we were apart from each other,” said Portillo, whose son, Jim Portillo Jr., 36, is an engineer paramedic at Station 6.
Portillo and others can thank Jim and Charlie for bringing the brothers and sisters together each year to the event, which is funded by the Anaheim Firefighters Local 2899.
Jim Buskirk and Charlie Kannenbly started at the fire academy together and both retired together in 1987 (Buskirk as an engineer, Kannenbly as a battalion chief).
Two years after that, Buskirk (or “Buzz,” as his black cap says) thought it would be nice to hold a casual get-together at popular dining haunt Keno’s Restaurant, the Anaheim Hills landmark that continues to serve breakfast all day.
“About 35 people showed up,” Buskirk recalled. “Right off the bat, it was a hit.”
Because the annual retiree breakfast grew in size, it had to be moved to larger quarters. For years, Station 8 hosted the powwow; since 2010, it’s been held at Station 6.
Capt. Molloy took over as main organizer of the breakfast 17 years ago, taking the mantle from Bob Byus, who assumed the duties from Buskirk and Kennenbly.
While most of the morning is about fun, a highlight of the breakfast is a brief ceremony to honor fallen firefighters in the previous year — a tradition that began in 2011.
As the names of the departed were read off, Whitlock rang a bell as the attendees paid their respects on silence.
Bob Hirst, an AF&R veteran from 1966-2000 who retired as an operations chief, has two sons serving as AF&R firefighters: Brent, at Station 3, and Brad, at Station 7.
Firefighters, figuratively and sometimes literally, are family, Hirst said.
Buskirk scanned the room.
“I have so many memories,” he said. “When I look around and see all these guys, I get full of nostalgia. And every year when I come here, I look around and think to myself, ‘By God, Charlie and I created this.’”
Portillo warmly embraced his son.
Then he saw an old pal and started to razz him.
“Time goes fast,” Portillo said. “That’s why it’s important to see these people every year.”