Interview with Jim Page, technical consultant and writer



Impatient Youth

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 couldn’t get a job till I had a driver’s 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, I’d drive my boss’ old pick-up into town and I’d regale the other kids with stories about all the movie stars that I’d 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 girlfriend’s 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 wasn’t 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 you’re finished with it ("Your mother’s 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. Michael Norell (Captain Stanley) on location in Long BeachThe 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