Friday’s dedication of the new Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians tribal fire station 69 was also a remembrance of the eighth anniversary of 9/11, which is, more than any other day, associated with the heroism of firefighters—343 were killed in the attack of 2001. About 70 members of the community attended the dedication and the lunch that followed.
The dedication began with a flag ceremony that included both Old Glory and the Pauma tribal flag, accompanied by a Luiseño chant. Chairman Chris C. Devers performed the blessing of the station, which was accompanied by sage smoke, also used to purify the station.
“We picked this day, 9/11, to remember that fateful day when our country was attacked and to remember the firefighters and responders who lost their lives that day,” he said, declaring that it was an especially appropriate day to open a fire station.
“We hope this significant addition of our facility will improve their resources and strengthen their impact within the community,” he said. Devers said that the goal of building the station goes back to 2007, and the decision was made shortly before the Poomacha wildfire of 2007 ravaged the valley.
He credited the Pauma tribal council with having the courage to authorize the station. At that time the Pauma tribal fire crew was a hand crew. The tribe decided that year to upgrade it to an “all risk” crew capable of handling all emergency calls and work with other similar agencies.
“When the valley was evacuated we had our hand crews deployed protecting lives and personal property,” said Devers. He noted that the tribe lost 4,000-5,000 acres of timberland that it owns during that fire. He called the new fire station, “a structure, but a lot more than a structure.” During the ceremony Pauma Firefighter Joey Latscha, one of the 14 firefighters, read the Firefighter’s Prayer, which includes these lines: “When I am called to duty, God, Whenever flames may rage, Give me strength to save some life, Whatever be its age.”
Fire Chief William Melendez introduced the 13 firefighters who will be working with him. “We share our house with our brothers and welcome you to our new fire station.” He added, “You don’t know what this day means to us. We are making history in Pauma Valley—we should be very proud.” Cal Fire Chief Jeff Johnson was also a guest speaker. “We have a strong working relationship with all of the departments in this area,” noting that Pauma has signed a mutual aid agreement with Cal Fire,” he said. “Our hope and desire is that we have a strong brotherhood and sisterhood in the fire services. We have seen a lot of changes and we are going to see more soon. Fire knows no boundaries. This new station will serve not only Pauma but the surrounding communities.”
Chief Melendez has spent the last year and a half training his crew from scratch to be ready for the station opening, which will actually be in service in about a week. He has spent his entire 27 year career in the fire services, including four years as division chief of the fire department that protected NASA’s facility in Simi Valley. That job had its special challenges since the highly flammable liquid oxygen is stored a large quantities.