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Ringing the bell for firefighters

March 25, 2005

BARBARA DIAMOND

Fire Captain Dan Stefano probably should have received hazardous duty

pay for his service as the firefighters' public information officer a

few years ago when management was at odds with the rank and file.

However, that is not why the Exchange Club honored him as the 2005

Firefighter of the Year at a luncheon March 17 at Hotel Laguna.

"He contributes to the fire service every day," said Mike Macey,

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the Fire Department's next fire chief.

Stefano's contributions include organizing the department's

wellness program with a grant from the Federal Emergency Management

Agency, taking charge of reporting statistical data, representing the

department to a fire chiefs association, coordinating reserve

firefighters, mentoring new ones and teaching fire technology at the

community college level.

"But when the bell rings, can he do the job? Absolutely," Macey

said.

Stefano was nominated for the prestigious Orange County Fire

Service Overachievers Award in 1999.

He began his career in Laguna Beach as a reserve firefighter in

1995 and was hired full-time in 1997. He was promoted to fire

engineer in December 2000 and to captain less than six months later.

Stefano has a bachelor's degree in speech communication from Cal

State Long Beach and a master's degree from USC.

He lives in Laguna Beach with his wife Michelle and their daughter

Sofia, both of whom attended the luncheon.

"Make no mistake -- fire service is a team job," Stefano said.

"I'm only a representative of the other 40 people in the department."

Stefano was presented with proclamations by Exchange Club

President Katy Moss, Mayor Elizabeth Pearson-Schneider, Sharon

Ashauer on behalf of Supervisor Tom Wilson and a representative of

state Assemblyman Chuck Devore's office.

"A lot of cities in South County do not have their own fire and

police departments," Pearson-Schneider said. "People here are proud

that we do."

A volunteer fire department was created in Laguna Beach in 1919.

The first station was built in 1931 where the Laguna Beach County

Water District building is located.

T.E. Seaman was the first chief. He had five firefighters. The

department went "pro" in 1948, but reserve firefighters still play an

important role.

"Reserve is a nice way of saying volunteer," Macey said. "The

reserves volunteer their time and talent. They carry a pager 24/7,

365 days. It doesn't go off at opportune times. Its 3 a.m. in a

driving rain or sitting down to dinner or as your kid is teeing off

in his first game."

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