By Ashley Mackin
Fire Station 13 at 809 Nautilus St. was filled with firefighters June 21, who were there to recognize Captain Bob Bilz, retiring this month after 32 years of service. The gathering of current and former firefighters was fitting, considering it was the camaraderie of the force that Bilz said made his experiences memorable.
“We are really a tight-knit family,” he said. “When you work a 24-hour shift together — and for the most part, have the same crew on one shift — it becomes like a family.”
Bilz also had high praise for the La Jollans in town.
“The people here are great, they thank us for doing our job, and thank us for helping their significant others on medical calls,” he said, adding that medical emergencies and house alarms make up about 90 percent of calls to the station.
La Jolla’s Station 13 has a relatively low, run volume with approximately 4-6 calls a day. There have only been four fire calls since January, he said. It’s a single-engine station with a four-person crew on site.
Retired captain Larry Bauer, who worked with Bilz in North Park, said they would often play games or place bets to pass the down time. “We would play (a game called) Rolly Ball and bet Pepsis,” he said. “Whoever lost had to buy Pepsi for everyone. Bob thought he was the Rolly Ball champion, but we took him out a few times.” Further, when the two were in the engine, they would bet on the speed limit of certain streets.
Another way Bilz brought some fun to the job was volunteering to do skits teaching elementary school children about fire safety dressed up as clowns Do Right and Do Rong.
“We would take a situation and Do Rong would do it completely wrong and Do Right would have to sit him down and explain what they should do,” he said, adding he al- ways played Do Rong because “that was fun.”
Jerry Sadler was Do Right. Although they only worked together on community outreach and a few years on D-Division (firehouse maintenance and repairs), Sadler said Bilz “has the biggest heart.”
“I’m glad to see him retire, but it’s a loss to the community to see him go. He is a great man,” he said.
Bilz said he was assigned to stations across San Diego during his 30-plus years, gaining different skills and experiences at each one. He spent the first five years as a firefighter in Barrio Logan, Oak Park, Normal Heights and North Park. From there, he was promoted to firefighter paramedic, a rank he held for 12 years. He worked as an engineer (driver) on an ambulance for eight years and then was promoted to captain.
Looking back on his career, he had two pieces of advice for residents:
1) When calling the fire department, provide as much information as possible because a complete picture helps.
“We had a fire here not too long ago that involved an older couple in a nice house. When the call came in, it was for someone smelling smoke, as we got closer the crews did report smelling smoke, and dispatch updated the call to read ‘bush on fire outside of house,’ which is a low priority call. However, when we got there, the whole side of the house was on fire! We had to get the couple out and then call dispatch to make it a higher priority call and get more crews out here.”
2) When driving, move to the right side of the road when you see an engine coming.
“And if you’re stopped at a stoplight, just stay where you are because if you move, we have no idea where you’re going to go,” he said. “This community does a better job than most, but it still amazes me to see people not move over.”
Although his last day on the job was June 25, Bilz said he would continue to assist the fire department as an equipment ordering manager.
His wife, Lisa, a firefighter with the Forest Service, plans to retire in two years. The couple has two adult children. Bilz’s replacement has not yet been named.