By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
After 33 years as a City of Los Angeles firefighter—the last four and a half at Fire Station 69 in the Palisades—Robert Bates will be retiring January 31 to begin a new and exciting chapter in his life.
“I started [in the Palisades] when they brought our fire engine back,” Bates said. “They took it away for budget cuts but I came in June 2016 because they brought it back and I had the seniority to be assigned there to work. I’ve never worked in an area that’s been as nice as the Palisades. The guys there have the most seniority and that’s because it’s highly desirable. You put in for a transfer and if you’re lucky you get assigned there.”
Some of Bates’ fondest memories of his time in the Palisades are from the Fourth of July Parade.
“I’ve been in the truck on the parade route numerous times and I’m very blessed to have been at the parade a few times,” Bates recalled. “The Palisades is a real community-based neighborhood. The people here love the fire department and they do anything they can to support us. We have such a great relationship with the public. That’s one of the things I like most about it.”
A third-generation fireman, Bates remembers going to the fire house to visit his grandfather (long since retired) or his uncle and sliding down the pole. Once he got to high school (he graduated from Crescenta Valley High in La Crescenta in 1978), he entered the Explorer program and was well on his way to embarking on what would become his career.
“My first three stations during my one-year probation were 81, 75 and 98—all low income neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley (Tacoma, Mission Hills and Arleta),” Bates said. “When you start they move you around a lot to get experience working in different areas and with different crews.”
Bates spent the next six years at McArthur Park, then at a station in Hollywood for one year, then in Silverlake for three a half years before returning to Station 98 in Pacoima. For three and a half years he also served as a special duty safety officer at LAFD headquarters in downtown LA.
The most challenging incidents he has faced since arriving at Station 69 are the brush fires.
“Because of them being out on the bluffs and cliffs you have to hike in just to get to the fire,” Bates explained. “I haven’t had any fatalities here in the Palisades, but the big challenge is trying to get everyone to evacuate early. I understand these are expensive homes and that you want to stay and try to save your house, but it’s not worth it to put your life at risk.”
Bates hails from the San Fernando Valley and moved constantly growing up. That prepared him well for the life he would lead as a firefighter, where you are relocating frequently. Shifts are typically three days on, four days off, but Bates has been gone as many as 16 days at a time.
For the last 22 years, Bates, now 60, has lived in Yorba Linda—a location he chose because of the blue ribbon schools and proximity to the beach.
“I like the beach and I love to surf,” he said. “My favorite beach is San Onofre but I’ve surfed Will Rogers Beach after work many times. It’s fun!”
Bates and his beloved wife Patricia have been married 31 years. He has four children—two boys and two girls—although despite his efforts none of them have followed in their father’s footsteps.
“I was hoping we’d get another generation out of it,” Bates said, chuckling. “I tried to get them into firefighting… but it was not their cup of tea.
His oldest son Bobby, 33, drives heavy equipment for an asphalt company in Nampa, Idaho (around 20 miles west of Boise) and has a 5-year-old son David whom Robert hopes to visit more when he retires; his second son Brian, 31, is a manager at Trader Joe’s in Huntington Beach; his older daughter Emily, 30, handles social media for PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and is a diver herself. She also enjoys surfing with her dad; and 19-year-old Alexandria is a student at Santiago Canyon College in Orange.
As one of two captains per shift, Bates is in charge of supervising 10 other individuals, driving the fire engine and is responsible when someone gets hurt in the line of duty.
“After you do it day in and day out, you get used to being in emergency situations,” he said. “I’ve seen elderly people in distress, decapitations, you name it. You try to learn how to deal with it by talking about the incident. Especially when you get a young child pass away or a bad fire or a drive-by shooting. Here, medical calls are the most common for sure. Probably 90 percent of calls are medical. Fortunately there aren’t as many fires in the Palisades.”
Faith is a huge part of Bates’ life (he and his wife have attended Calvary Community Church in Brea for seven years) and will continue to be as he transitions into life as a retiree.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without the Lord,” Bates said. “I’m blessed to have the career I do and to be able to help people. In the next chapter the Lord has another plan, but I’ll continue to volunteer cooking at my church. Also, I plan to do a lot of traveling and, of course, surfing. I love to cook. I enjoy making lunch or dinner for the guys at the station, but you have to be prepared to drop everything and go.”
What will he remember most about being captain at Station 69?
“The thing I’ll remember most is how well the support from the community has been,” Bates said. “I’ve never experienced that at any other district. It takes my breath away. That’s what I’m going to take away from this experience. Everyone is so supportive and so kind.
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