With only six hours remaining on his legendary firefighting and fire-service instructing career, Bill Stroud wasn’t about to get philosophical — or make a big fuss of things.
Taking off his red captain’s helmet and peeling off his yellow turnout on a sunny morning as he took a break from training the latest class of recruits who attend the nationally renowned Santa Ana Fire Academy, Stroud was asked how he would be marking his last day on the job.
“Probably go out for a beer with the guys,” said Stroud at the Central Net Training Center in Huntington Beach, where 39 recruits were putting together the skills they’ve been learning at an all-day combination drill April 19.
(Stroud won’t be able to get away with just that. See the end of this story for information about Stroud’s retirement dinner).
As smoke billowed from a five-story burn tower — part of the drill involved recruits scaling a 35-foot ladder to bash a hole in a roof to let the smoke escape — Stroud prepared to get back to work as master instructor for ladder operations at the Santa Ana College Fire Academy, a title he’s held since 1987.
“I’ll be around,” Stroud said of retirement. “I’ll still be seeing a lot of these guys.”
Stroud’s last day Tuesday was spent training Class No. 169, which is nearing the end of 14 weeks of training.
To put some perspective on how much a fixture the retired Anaheim Fire & Rescue captain has been at the academy, Stroud started teaching there in 1974 — the year Nixon resigned from the presidency.
His first charges were members of class No. 18. Stroud was a member of class No. 7 at the academy, founded in 1967 (it’s the oldest fire academy in the state).
“He’s beyond a legend — he’s a legend’s legend,” said Gary Dominguez, director of fire instruction at Santa Ana College (Stroud taught Dominguez ladders at the academy in 1979).
In all, Stroud has had a hand in training more than 6,000 recruits who’ve gone on to firefighting careers around the world.
“He’s helped to mold many future generations of firefighters,” said close friend John Strickland, a captain with Anaheim Fire & Rescue.
Stroud’s legions of pals in the fire service is testament to his reputation as a humble and sweet man, a “Steady Eddie” truck captain who never was shy about putting his foot down and raising his voice when needed.
As he nursed a decaf during an interview at a coffee shop in HB, Stroud, wearing a Santa Ana College Fire Academy cap, was full of stories — like the one about his first day on the job.
Responding to a newspaper ad, Stroud — born and raised in Long Beach — was hired by Anaheim Fire in July 1970 (back then, newbies went to the academy after they were hired).
He was 22, and things were simpler then.
Stroud reported to Fire Chief Ed Stringer’s office.
Stringer, chief since 1950, scanned his outfit:
Sports coat, tie, slacks, wing-tip shoes.
“Didn’t anyone tell you,” Stringer said, “that you need to have a uniform?”
No, Stroud told him.
He assumed he would receive lots of training before going to work.
Stringer had someone find Stroud pieces of other guys’ uniforms.
His turnout was four sizes too large, his pants were tight — but no matter.
Stroud immediately went to work.
“The fire chief turned me over to a battalion chief, a gruff old dude who wanted nothing to do with a red-headed, freckle-faced kid, and the battalion chief passed me off to the first guy he saw in the hallway,” Stroud said.
That firefighter, Engineer Charlie Johnson, would go on to train Stroud, who says a another key mentor throughout his career was retired Capt. Jerry Allcott.
That first day on the job, Johnson showed Stroud how to ride on the back of the fire truck.
“Two things you need to know,” Johnson told him. “Hold onto this grab bar so you don’t fall off. And this is how you turn the water nozzle on and off. Those are the only two things you need to know on your first day.”
A few hours later on that first day, Stroud and his partners responded to a fire at carports near La Palma Avenue and Euclid Street.
Stroud helped douse the fire from atop the carport.
All went well.
“It was very exciting, to say the very least,” Stroud said. “Talk about on-the-job training.”
Stroud, 68, said he just feels it’s time to retire as a fire academy instructor (he retired 12 years ago from Anaheim Fire & Rescue).
“This is a young man’s job,” he said.
Although he’s in excellent shape, his body takes longer to recover from the grueling physical work involved in training.
And he says he and his wife, Kae, a retired seller of industrial fasteners, are looking forward to spending more time on their 43-foot sailboat, Sin Miedo (“Without Fear” in Spanish), which often is moored at the Fourth of July Yacht Club at Two Harbors on Santa Catalina Island.
Stroud loves the water.
His father died in a car accident when he was 9-months-old and Stroud, an only child, was raised by his mom in a tiny rented house three homes from the sand in Belmont Shore.
Stroud, who attended Wilson High School in Long Beach, grew up an avid surfer and still hits the waves.
His colleagues gave him a longboard when he retired from AF&R in 2004.
Stroud has a daughter from a previous marriage (she’s a registered nurse) and has two granddaughters and a great-grandson.
Just four years into his career at AF&R, Stroud began teaching at the Santa Ana Fire Academy — at the ripe age of 26.
“I figured the more I taught,” he said, “the better a firefighter I would be.”
Stroud has seen training at the academy dramatically evolve from just books and classroom instruction into a dizzying array of hands-on practical training. And today’s firefighters study such topics that include weapons of mass destruction, EMT, urban search and rescue and hazardous materials.
But over the years, Stroud’s training specialty has remained ladders.
In their 52 hours of ladders training, recruits must learn the art of lifting and carrying them (hand-made, 35-foot wooden extension ones weigh close to 250 pounds) and the safest and most efficient way of climbing up and down them.
“Balance points are the key to ladders,” said Fred Ramsey, an academy instructor for 25 years who retired from L.A. City Fire after a 33-year career. “It’s not about strength, but being smart.”
Stroud has high praise for both Anaheim Fire & Rescue and the Santa Ana College Fire Academy, a program administered by the college with input from the Orange County Fire Chiefs’ Association.
“To me, it’s the greatest program of its type in the country,” Stroud said. “I think we provide a really good product. When the kids come out of the academy, they are ready to go and chomping at the bit. They are so well trained in all of the aspects they will need on their first day of the job.”
Stroud said of Anaheim Fire & Rescue: “It’s a great agency. And what makes it great is the people.”
It’s hard for Stroud’s countless friends in the fire service to believe he’s hanging up his turnouts for good.
It’s hard for him, too.
“The fire service is the greatest career there ever was or will ever be,” Stroud said. “It’s a noble career, and it was a dream for me to have it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else that gave me the level of self-satisfaction of working for Anaheim Fire.
“I never regretted a day. There were days I got my ass-whupped, but I pretty much loved every minute.”
Stroud’s retirement party will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 19, at Rose Canyon Cantina & Grill, 20722 Rose Canyon, Trabuco Canyon. RSVP by May 10 to Anaheim Fire & Rescue Capt. John Strickland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-835-7960.