By Karen Brainard
After nearly 40 years, Capt. Don Davis of Ramona is hanging up his firefighting gear and pulling out his fishing pole.
In addition to fishing, the newly-retired fire captain is also looking forward to a trip to Hawaii, volunteering with the Burn Institute and on the High Sierra trail crews, catching up on projects around the house, and hoping to be a grandfather soon.
“So I’ve got enough to keep me busy,” the captain of Ramona Fire Department/Cal Fire’s Station 80 said with a smile.
“You know, this is the first August where I won’t be going on a fire assignment,” Davis noted.
When the October 2007 Witch Creek Fire started, Davis and his wife, Laura, were vacationing on Catalina Island and were unaware of it until Laura’s mother called, asking how close they were to the fire in eastern Ramona.
“I still had two hours to catch the boat to the mainland,” Davis said. The boat returned them to Dana Point.
“I think that was the quickest drive — I think it took about an hour and a half to get from Dana Point to here,” he said with amazement.
Davis’s career began when he was 19 years old. He attended the firefighting academy at Miramar College and worked at a fire station in Alpine.
“I did it because of the time off,” he said, but added “back in those days the pay was so low everybody worked on their time off.”
He picked up an extra job at a grocery store and when he received a promotion, made more than he did in his firefighting job.
When he found himself laid off due to cuts, he took a job with an ambulance company where he honed his medical aid skills.
Davis worked at the Borrego Springs Fire Department, moved to Texas, and served at the Flower Mound Fire Department, and then returned to Borrego Springs. He filled in pay gaps with part-time grocery work. When he found he could make a $100 more a month in the grocery industry, he quit the fire service, went to work full time at the grocery store, and returned to Miramar College to earn his associate’s degree.
In 1985 he was hired by the Ramona Fire Department and when it contracted with the state firefighting agency, Cal Fire, he took a break for eight years to work out of Warner Springs, gaining more wildland firefighting experience.
Over the years, Davis has been in charge of section lines on a fire, overseeing a couple hundred firefighters, and has taught classes and conducted training, including basic fire engine operation classes, and vertical and tactical rescues. He has also taught as an adjunct professor at the Cal Fire Academy in Sacramento.
Capt. Bert Ramirez, who joined the Ramona Fire Department in 1991 and works at Station 80, had Davis as an adjunct professor in 1994.
Ramirez commended Davis’ leadership and “big base of knowledge.”
“It just helps to have a lot of local knowledge,” he said.
Ramirez said that Davis was the only one in the department who instructed vertical and tactical training in the 1990s, noting that was pretty groundbreaking then.
Even though he officially retired July 22, Davis said he still plans to visit the station and will keep an eye on fires.
Ever the captain and the friend, he said, “I still check up on these fires because I have buddies who are out there.”