Brian Kidwell: 35-year firefighter closes career in La Jolla


“I’ve had probably the best career you could ask for as a firefighter,” said firefighter/paramedic Brian Kidwell. “I’ve had the chance to do everything there is to do and while I’m not the best at anything, I’ve worked with the best. I’ve been very fortunate.” Kidwell ended his 35 years of service as a firefighter June 25 at La Jolla’s Fire Station 13. During his career, he served at several stations across San Diego (including its busiest, Station 17) and did a lengthy term on the San Diego Urban Search & Rescue Team.

But he could think of no place better to end his career than the Jewel, he said. “What’s nice about La Jolla is that there aren’t as many non-emergency calls. You may not get as many calls overall, but when people do call, it’s because they need us,” he said, reporting that in other areas, paramedics might be called for someone experiencing cold and flu symptoms.

“Our job is to be there for the cardiac arrests, the strokes, traumas and low heart rates — where you can make a difference. La Jolla’s an older community, but it’s a sophisticated community; they call when there is an actual need,” he said.

“Plus, I get to live 10 days a month in one of the most exclusive communities in the country, and I don’t have to pay for it! How much better does it get than that?” said Kidwell, who added that the best part of the job is running at the Cove for department-mandated exercise.

Another perk of working in La Jolla, he said, is the crew of people that have accomplished great things to earn their place at the station. “It’s all about who your crew is, and I can’t think of a better crew to work with on this job,” he said.

Station 13’s Captain Maria Cabrera worked at a station that responded to 6,000 calls a year, Station 13’s engineer Anthony Wheeler worked 10 years at the City of San Diego heavy rescue unit, Kidwell boasted. “Everyone has done something to earn their place here.”

The New Mexico-native joined the Fire Department in 1980 in Chula Vista as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Around that time, it became policy that all firefighters be trained as EMTs. Ten years later, he was part of the first class of firefighter-paramedics in San Diego. Paramedics offer a more advanced level of emergency care and require additional education and training above an EMT.

“Paramedics had been in the San Diego Fire Department, but we’d always been what was called Basic Life Support Engine companies,” he said. “We were limited on the drugs and equipment we could carry, but we could do the same thing any other paramedic could do — starting IVs, administering drugs, defibrillating someone ...”

When the opportunity to become a certified firefighter-paramedic arose, he jumped at the chance. He was one of 36 selected to undergo training and join a new class of emergency care providers.

Although Kidwell said during his first year as a firefighter-paramedic, officers “bounce around” between stations, he soon settled at Fire Station 23 in Linda Vista. Over the years, he worked at stations in Mira Mesa, UTC, Oak Park, Lemon Grove, Sorrento Valley and more.

He even spent eight years at Station 17 in City Heights, considered one of the busiest in San Diego. “We call it ‘the hub,’ ” he said. “When I was there, we averaged 16-17 calls a day, now it’s closer to 24-30 calls a day.”

Concurrently, Kidwell spent 20 years on the Department’s Urban Search & Rescue Team — a crew trained to respond to disasters and recover victims and survivors across the country. He and his team were on the ground after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, the 1996 terrorist attack and bombing at the Atlanta Summer Olympics, and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

But for Kidwell, the most notable response was to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “I remember that morning, my mother-in-law called and told me to turn on the TV. I saw what was happening and by the time I turned around, my wife Debbie was already standing there with my USR uniform and said ‘you’ll be needing this.’ ”

He spent 13 days in New York City, five days after the attack.

“I was on the ‘Charlie Team’ when the Trade Center went down, which meant our team was one of eight teams to get out there and relieve the first eight teams that were deployed the day the Trade Center went down,” he said, noting he served as a medical specialist. “When they send out a recon team or a search team to do anything, they have to have a medical specialist with them. I got to be that.” Kidwell left the Urban Search & Rescue unit in 2011, but continued to serve at San Diego firehouses.

But the long days started to take a toll. “You get wiped out,” he joked. So when his first grandson Judah came along, Kidwell decided he wanted a change of pace.

“I wanted to be awake and alert for my grandchildren and spend more time with my wife and kids,” he said. When a friend in the department invited Kidwell to work at Station 13 in 2013, knowing retirement was just two years away, he happily accepted.

At his retirement party, friends and colleagues shared what Kidwell brought to the seaside station.

Captain Cabrera said, “He has contributed so much to this station, with his years of experience ... he’s very caring and hardworking, even to the last day. We’ve been trying to keep him from doing his normal daily duties like cleaning up. He has a lot of integrity and he is going to leave a huge void. He’s going to be missed.”

Wheeler added, “Between his USR experience and working at some of the busiest stations in San Diego, to me, he’s one of our best.”