Weston, Grass Valley Fire Chief looks forward to retirement
Hank Weston started fighting fires at 15 and has been going strong ever since. “Its an adrenaline rush, it gets into your blood and you have to do it,” Weston said. “I’ve seen people become volunteer firefighters and leave full careers to become full time firefighters. You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s a very satisfying accomplishment.”
Weston plans on retiring sometime this year, after 42 years of service. Looking back on his career, he has seen a tremendous evolution in the field of fire service, not only in technology, but in who the firefighters are, their desire to help.
Speaking of the Nevada County Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council, he said, “In Nevada County, we have one of the best relationships between public safety entities in California. There’s a lot of healthy bantering between law and fire. There are no turf battles. If there are issues, they’re dealt with immediately,” he said.
The Council has helped to provide a prototype of the latest computer technology for the fire engines that they are now testing.
Calls to the Grass Valley Fire Department are 80% medical with 2,200 calls last year. The older population is growing, which creates more need for medical services. “Because fire departments are staffed 24 hours, they are available to respond and stabilize people in emergencies. In this area, people know you can rely on firefighters to answer a call and something will be done,” Weston said.
The biggest fire threats in Nevada County are wildland fires, houses interspersed with trees and brush which is catastrophic. The 49’er fire in 1988, is an example of a typical wildland interface fire, where houses and vegetation create one massive block of fuel for the fire.
Will he miss it all after he retires? “I might. It’s a very close and fraternal group. Firefighters eat, live together, and share common knowledge. With only 40,000 to 50,000 fire fighters in California, we’re a small knit group with common goals and objectives, helping the public,” he said.
Speaking about how the different agencies work together he said, “Today we had an accident at South Auburn St. freeway offramp. The police arrived, then the fire EMS arrived and stabilized the hurt victim until the hospital ambulance and paramedics got there. When the whole system works correctly, with everyone working hard together, like today, the patient gets taken care of,” Weston said.
Look for Weston’s famous chili at the fire fighter’s association booth at the fairgrounds. “The ‘1 alarm’ chili is not too hot, but the ‘2 alarm’ chili will blow the top of your head off”, Weston said.
His retirement plans? Weston hopes to play golf and travel, do some fishing, see all of the United States. Last summer, he and his wife enjoyed their first trip to Italy and found the people great and the country beautiful.
Weston showed me one of his collections of antique invitations to the Grass Valley’s Fireman’s Balls. The invitation read: “Grass Valley’s Fireman’s Ball, Monday, February 22, 1926”. A coincidence that it is the same date as this year, except 77 years ago. The dance card is filled with dances such as the Grand March, the fox trot, waltz, Paul Jones, Rye Waltz, One Step, Virginia Reel, Quadrille, and something called the Fireman Special. It closes with three Charlestons at the end. After all, it was the roaring twenties.
Times may have changed, but Weston is enthusiastic about the Red Light Ball. “It’s a great night. We all go out and enjoy ourselves,” he said.
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