Mike DuRee is a fourth-generation Long Beach firefighter. The 18-year veteran became the Long Beach Fire Department chief in July.
Question: Do you remember going on your kindergarten field trip to the local fire station?
Answer: Yes. It was kind of anticlimactic. My great-grandfather Allen was fire chief back in the 1930s and '40s, and I remember him fondly. He was retired, of course, but every morning when I was little I would walk with him to the local market, then we'd go to Station 4 and he would have a cup of coffee with the guys. I was always around firehouses and firefighters. My dad, who became deputy chief, would come to my class on career day and I was always disappointed because he'd bring one of the guys in to show the gear, the turnouts and stuff, and I knew all that. I wanted to be the one to show it off.
Question: So, to you the Fire Department is more like DuRee & Sons, Firefighters. And now you're in charge. How's the budget battle going?
Answer: There are some positives and some negatives. We'll have paramedics on all 16 engines, instead of just nine. Every single patient we see will get a paramedic assessment. But we'll be losing an engine, down from 17, and that's hard, because we'd already taken three out before. I use the baseball analogy. You have to field nine players, and when you take one out, the other eight have to cover more
Question: OK, I'm tired of talking about the budget now.
Answer: Same here. I've repeated the same statement 477 times in the last three months. After a while it's like Adele. You just keep singing the same song over and over.
Answer: Yeah. I have a 9-year-old daughter. She's into Adele and Maroon 5.
Question: Who has an easier job, the fire chief or the police chief?
Answer: We're similar in that we're both involved with public safety, but I think the police chief and his department are under a lot more scrutiny because of the nature of their work.
Question: You don't have problems with firefighter brutality or excessive use of water.
Answer: No, we're lucky. We're generally held in high esteem.
Question: Well, a lot of that is because you guys give away hot dogs like crazy.
Answer: That's the Firefighters Association that does that. I spent 14 years as vice president of the Firefighters Association. I pulled that trailer a lot and cooked a lot of hot dogs in 14 years.
Question: You got any numbers on how many hot dogs you've cooked?
Answer: No, but my hands smelled like hot dogs for 14 years. I got to where I didn't want to look at a hot dog. And, to answer your question, I'm a dog guy. We've got two at home.
Question: You know what else firefighters do a lot? Gardening. Every time we drive by a fire station I see them pruning roses and edging the grass. I tell my wife, "You know those guys don't do that at home. They tell their wives they're tired of doing it at work all week."
Answer: I do it at home. I'm old school. I still use a push mower.
Question: You do not!
Answer: I do. We live over by St. Bartholomew Church in the Shore. We have a pretty tiny yard. When it's hot like it's been this summer, I question why I do it, but I guess I'm too cheap to pay $70 a month to have someone cut the grass in our little postage-stamp yard. And, anyway, we're starting to limit the knowledge of gardening at the fire stations. We're working with the water department with their lawn-to-garden program. We're taking the yards out and putting in more drought-tolerant and sustainable plants.
Question: After four generations, you must have a lot of firefighting memorabilia in your house.
Answer: Not really. I have an old brass fire extinguisher that my great-grandfather had, but otherwise, if you came to my house, you wouldn't know what I do for a living. I do have a lot of stuff in my office, though.
Question: Your great-grandfather Allen was the only other DuRee to make chief. When did he start?
Answer: In May 1933, just two months after the big Long Beach earthquake. A lot of the department's equipment was destroyed, but some guys in fleet services salvaged a bell off one of the engines and mounted it and gave it to my great-grandfather. He kept it on his desk as a reminder of a pretty bad day in Long Beach. It was passed down from generation to generation. I lost track of it. Then, on the day I became chief, my dad got into my office. And when I walked in on my first day, the bell was sitting on my desk in the same spot that my great-grandfather had it on his desk. I had to close the door. I needed a moment. The last thing I wanted people to see on Day One was the chief blubbering in his office.
Question: Now I'm crying, too. You going to stay on the job for awhile?
Answer: My great-grandfather was chief for 13 years, from 1933 to 1946. My plan and my hope is to last at least that long.