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Saving memories

Motivated by Newport Fire Department’s nearing 100-year anniversary, local firefighter protects history in his new book.

February 16, 2008|By Brianna Bailey

Nearly 100 years of history line the walls of the Balboa Island fire station. An antique breathing apparatus and an old fire call log book with yellowed pages from the 1930s sit in one glass case. Black-and-white photographs show decades of local firefighters doing everything from rescuing a dog to extinguishing a boat fire.

Most of the antique equipment, photographs and other documents preserved at the fire station are featured in retired Newport Beach firefighter Michael Novak’s new book, “Newport Beach Fire Department.”

Novak, who was a firefighter in Newport Beach for almost 30 years, has worked for the past several years to collect and preserve the history of Newport’s fire department.

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“Mike saved most of it from the trash,” said Capt. Jerry Strom, pointing to a number of black-and-white photographs. Strom has served on the Newport Beach Fire Department for 43 years, making him the second-longest serving firefighter ever to serve in Newport Beach.

A battered helmet Strom wore as a rookie in 1965 sits in one glass case. The helmet has Strom’s initials etched inside.

For years, many historical artifacts from the history of the fire department collected dust at the old Newport Beach municipal jail. Eager to protect the history of the fire department, Novak began sifting through documents and salvaging old photographs.

“As I started doing it, people started bringing me things,” Novak said, which was how Novak procured Strom’s helmet. Another firefighter dug it up and brought it to Novak to preserve. Novak had never seen another like it before.

The new book analogues history dating back to the 1910, when the city council chambers were severely damaged in a fire. With no fire department to save the building from the blaze, city officials scrambled to organize volunteer fire protection. The fire department was officially established in 1911. The upcoming 100-year anniversary of the fire department, was motivation for Novak to publish the book.

Building on the work of other firefighters who had documented the early years of the fire department, the book is the first cohesive account of nearly 100 years of fire department history.

The fire department has expanded to be one of the best on the West Coast since a small shack began serving as the city’s first firehouse almost 100 years ago near Newport Pier, Novak said.

Strom estimates the fire department has hired as many as 60 new firefighters in the past few years. Novak’s work will preserve the fire department’s history for a new generation of firefighters, he said.

“I think everyone is appreciative of him doing this,” Strom said. “Now the new firefighters coming in will know something about the past.”

Novak hopes his work to tell the story of the Newport Beach Fire Department will inspire other firefighters to save pictures and interesting anecdotes from their years of service.

“There are so many things I wish I would have written down or saved,” Novak said. “I hope they write things down, even keep things in a shoe box or something.”

HOW TO BUY

TITLE: “Newport Beach Fire Department”

AUTHOR: Retired Newport Beach firefighter Michael Novak

COST: $19.99

Visit www.arcadiapublishing.com to order the book.


BRIANNA BAILEY may be reached at (714) 966-4625 or at brianna.bailey@latimes.com.

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