Interview with Jim Page, technical consultant and writer
I was born in Los Angeles and went to high school in the suburban town of Alhambra. By age 15, I was bored with school and couldnt get a job till I had a drivers license. That year, my Mom arranged for me to live with and work for a farm family near her hometown of Nickerson, Kansas. For me, it was a wonderful change. I enjoyed the work and the pay ($5 a day plus room and board), and farm kids could get drivers licenses at age 15. Every Saturday night, Id drive my boss old pick-up into town and Id regale the other kids with stories about all the movie stars that Id seen in Hollywood.
I finished high school in California but then returned to Kansas, mostly because of a girl who lived there. I arrived in Kansas with about $250 and rented a room in the home of a great aunt. Within a day or two, I heard that Rudy Young, who operated the Mobilgas station and a repair garage in Nickerson, was going to close the gas station because it was too much trouble. I talked him into subleasing the station to me for $200. I was in business at age 18 and it was great fun till winter arrived and people stopped driving (and buying gas).
My original career goal was to be a traveling salesman. By age 19 I had a job with an auto parts supply company, selling tires, batteries, accessories, auto wax, oil additives, license plate frames, etc. in a territory that covered the southwest one-fourth of Kansas and part of northern Oklahoma. I was on the road all week and then back home to see my girlfriend on weekends. Then came another winter. Sales slumped and my girlfriends parents decided that I would never amount to much. They wanted her to go to college, not to California with a traveling salesman.
By age 20 I was broke and back in California. My Dad was a supervisor for a trucking company in Los Angeles. He got me a job driving a furniture delivery truck. Oftentimes, the helper assigned to my truck would be one of the off-duty firefighters that Dad hired as part-timers. They would tell me about their jobs with the fire department and I became fascinated. I started taking civil service exams and passed them all but I wasnt old enough (the minimum hiring age was 21). But one department agreed to hold open a spot till my 21st birthday. Meanwhile, I took a job with a private ambulance company while waiting for the opportunity to become a firefighter.
A Leader I Could be Proud of
August 7, 1957, I reported for duty at Fire Station 2 at 2001 South Garfield in Monterey Park. Captain Richie Lawrence was to be my boss and provide my on-the-job training. Richie had been an Army Infantry Captain in the South Pacific during World War II. The first lesson of the day: Wash your own coffee cup when youre finished with it ("Your mothers not going to be here to clean up after you"). Lesson #2: how to make a bed (military style). Lesson #3: how to loop and connect to a fire hydrant ("If we get a fire, you loop the hydrant, charge the supply line, and then ask for further orders").
From that very first day, I knew I had found my calling, and I knew that I was working for a leader I could be proud of. Richie Lawrence brought to the job the necessary degree of discipline and order but he participated in the camaraderie as well. The atmosphere at Station 2 was very much like the atmosphere at Station 51 on "Emergency!" To the extent that I participated in selecting Michael Norell for the role of Captain Stanley, and to the extent that I coached him on the nuances of the role, I was seeking to recreate the atmosphere that I experienced while working for Richie Lawrence and that I tried to maintain when I was a Captain.
Incidentally, on the 40th anniversary of my first day at Station 2, I was invited to join the on-duty crew for lunch. We had a great time (even though none of them, including Capt. Chris Donovan, were even alive when I started my career there). A few weeks later (in September 1997) I visited with Richie Lawrence at the California State Firefighters Convention. In his eighties and retired about 25 years, he still had a quick smile and a grip like a steel vise. As always, he enjoyed telling everybody that he taught me everything I know. In a remote way, he did. During my first month on the job, he convinced me that my career ambitions would never be met without a college education. He urged me to sign up for night classes at a nearby community college. Thirteen years later, I graduated from law school.
Copyright 1998, James O. Page