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February 6, 2007 > Fremont Fire Department gets dirty with Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs

Fremont Fire Department gets dirty with Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs

Television celebrity looks for dirt with local firefighters.

Grit, grime and foul, gooey messes are an obsession for Mike Rowe of Discovery Channel's hit series, Dirty Jobs. In Episode 19 of Discovery Hits, currently available through February 8th on "On Demand" cable, Rowe shovels sludge in a sugar mill and wrangles alligators. Sandwiched between these two segments, a dirty job awaits in Fremont, California.

An avid fan of the show, Holly Novak, a 15-year veteran of the department, currently assigned to Station 7 on Grimmer Blvd. near Auto Mall Parkway, knew she could show Rowe an especially dirty time if he accepted her invitation. Following each episode, viewers are invited to go online to suggest future subjects. Someone asked about firefighters and that was all Holly needed to add a message to the email traffic. After her invitation, a telephone response came within an hour and bureaucratic wheels began to roll.

In September 2005, Rowe and a film crew arrived one morning and spent 10 hours filming with Fremont firefighers to experience a controlled building fire and the cleanup that follows. Hot, grimy and uncomfortable are descriptive words that understate the result. A small house near the intersection of Mission Blvd. and Mowry Ave. was prepared for a training fire. Within minutes of setting the fire with the help of Fire Control Officer, Captain Ron McCormick, Rowe and Novak faced a room ablaze with flame and filling fast with thick, dark smoke. Rowe and his camera crew wondered if this was really "controlled" but gamely continued filming. Firefighters are highly trained to work with bulky and heavy equipment under intolerable conditions, while Rowe and his camera crew received a brief basic training class before filming to make sure safety procedures were followed.

Everyone in the building was required to wear a full set of "turnouts" - heavy protective clothing - and breathing apparatus. Novak says that Rowe was shocked by the speed, heat and penetrating steam of the fire. Even with the inexperienced Rowe in tow, the fire was soon extinguished. However, that was just the beginning for the television celebrity. He was now introduced to the unglamorous and "dirty" task of removing smoldering embers and stripping charred debris from the house. Novak says that the firefighters are very sensitive to the effects of a fire on people's lives, their pets and possessions. Of course, preservation of life comes first, but efforts, sometimes heroic in proportion, are taken to preserve property as well.

Following the extreme heat of the fire, the firefighters had another, quite different, task for Rowe. Ever see a huge pillar of water reaching skyward resulting from an accidental fracture of a fire hydrant linked to the main water supply? The result is an instant flood. Someone has to slog through the mess, find a valve cap and close the valve - 30 turns - to stem the flow. Guess what department is often asked to do this and guess who invited Rowe to try his hand at turning a valve wrench amidst such a man-made monsoon? Even though the hydrant was totally removed to avoid falling pieces of metal and concrete, standing in the torrent to search for the valve cover and closing the valve under the cold waterfall was exhausting work. At the end of the episode, Rowe and Novak sit beside a fire engine discussing the chores that remain for the firefighters when they return. Rowe didn't volunteer to follow Novak back to their station house.

The producer of Dirty Jobs has contacted Holly to ask about another episode with the Fremont Fire Department. Questioned if she had any more "dirty work," without hesitation, Novak told them to come back and she was sure the Fremont Fire Department could find more dirt for Rowe. She added, "We have got a lot of dirt going on here."

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