Laguna in 1989). "I had first aid training and I hadn't even been on
a fire truck. But my captain told me that people expect you to do
your job and they don't know it's your first day."
Although they didn't sleep so much as a wink that first shift,
Marsh, Klass and Capt. Steve Rening knew they were hooked for life.
Now with 65 years of experience among them, they see a new breed of
firefighters -- or "probies" as they call them -- join the ranks.
"In the old days you climbed a ladder and then took a test," Klass
said. "Now in order to take the test you have to have at least an
Unlike the "tailboard riders" of yesteryear, firefighters usually
have a bachelor's degree and fire academy training before they get
hired by a department. Marsh estimates that this caliber of recruits
saves a department anywhere between $25,000 and $40,000.
Rening, who followed in his father's footsteps as a Laguna
firefighter, now stresses to his own son to get his degree first and
then consider the family tradition.
"A college degree makes you a more well-rounded person," he said.
"It's paramount for any young person."
Although education is the key to get in through the door, out in
the real world it never outweighs experience.
"They come out educated but not experienced," Klass said.
"You need experience to teach the younger guys and tell them when
they shouldn't run into that burning building because by sight you
know it's coming down," Marsh clarified.
What makes being a firefighter in Laguna Beach more interesting is
that these professionals have to be masters of all trades. Unlike big
urban departments that offer specialized teams for arson, rescue and
hazardous materials, Laguna firefighters have to be ready and able to
handle any call -- delivering babies, extinguishing house fires,
cutting people out of mangled cars or sewage spills. And they're
equipped to go to any major fire in the state at any time.
"When people call 911 they expect that we're going to be there and
be able to handle any problem," Marsh said, pointing to the red