Most of the firefighters stationed in Malibu have two homes — one perhaps outside the city limits and the other in Malibu. That’s one reason why saying farewell to the place that has been home for most of his career with the Los Angeles County Fire Department was not an easy task for Capt. Leland Brown, who retired on March 29.
The Point Dume station was Brown’s second home for decades. He considered his co-workers there as part of his extended family, because firefighters live and work together as a team when they are on duty.
“The experience has been so great. I don’t really think it’s really hit me yet,” said Brown, 59, about his years of service with the department and his imminent retirement.
But Brown remained at his post until the very last minute last Thursday. He saw his fellow fire fighters prepare for the day, making beds, doing dishes, sweeping floors and preparing a special farewell lunch.
Fortunately, no urgent calls came in as the crew of five who staffed the station during Brown’s last shift reminisced about a well-liked captain.
“He is a great boss with common sense,” said firefighter Henry Wong, a specialist who drives the engine at Station 71 in Point Dume.
“It kind of hit him hard this morning when he left the station,” said Linda Brown. “His last day was nice, but when he got home this [Friday] morning, he realized it’s a life change.”
Brown, who grew up in West Los Angeles, decided to be a firefighter at a young age when his brother-in-law got him interested way back when, he said. So he took the test and he has been hooked ever since.
The 35-year department veteran had other aspirations when he was young, however. He attended UCLA for one semester and went to Santa Monica City College before that. He planned to be a teacher at first, but he changed his mind and started to work his way up the ladder at a Safeway grocery store in Westwood Village.
He would have stayed in the grocery business if not for Linda, his wife of 38 years.
“My father and several of his brothers had been in the grocery business,” said Linda Brown. But having seen the direction of their career as opposed to the excitement of her other brother’s career, who had just started in the fire department, she encouraged Brown to join up too. Once he did, he never looked back.
“You can’t beat this job,” he said.
And the fire-fighting bug is catching. Sons Jeff, Mike and Chris Brown followed in their father’s footsteps after seeing how much he enjoyed his job.
The oldest, Jeff, 34, is a captain with the Los Angeles Fire Department; Mike, 33, works for the fire department in Lancaster; and Chris, 29, a boot firefighter with the county, already has six years’ field experience in Burbank.
Brown’s daughter, Cheryl Adams, 36, is a mobile intensive care nurse. She assists paramedics by phone when they need her expertise.
A firefighter’s career involves more than fighting fires. “Most of the calls are unrelated to fires, since 98 percent of a firefighter’s job is other than fire,” said Wong.
“We enjoy helping people out,” said Brown. “When the engine goes to a victim’s house, their anxiety level goes down as soon as they see us.
“We will do everything that’s practical to help people,” said Brown, as he told the story of a dog whose paw was stuck in a bathtub drain. The firefighters helped the owner get it out safety and the pet’s owner was greatly relieved. “It gives us a sense of satisfaction,” said Brown.
“Probably the hardest thing for me is to see kids hurt or injured,” said Brown, grandfather of five with two more on the way.
Brown said he has had a superb team working with him, not for him. The men had previous experience, which made Brown’s job easier because they already knew what to do.
As they talked about their captain, firefighters at the Point Dume station were already beginning to miss his professionalism and geniality.
Wong said he has benefited from Brown’s knowledge of the area many times. He recounted how his captain was able to lead him skillfully through the small streets of Malibu. Brown not only led in a traditional way, but he stayed hands-on, driving a smaller patrol truck ahead of the others. “He led the way to all our calls. He was like a fast-attack captain,” said paramedic Dave Saltmarsh.
As a retirement gift, Brown’s children treated him and his wife to a cruise of his choice. He also owns an RV and has covered a third of the United States in it already. He enjoys playing golf and working on his house in the San Fernando Valley, and looks forward to spending more time with his grandchildren.