Many fire departments throughout Marin and across the country have had residential firefighter programs at some point in their history, also known as "sleepers." The basic deal was free rent with shared kitchen and bath, a bed, locker, and perhaps a dresser, in exchange for training and responding as a volunteer or paid call firefighter. Sometimes you also were required to work some shifts. These programs most likely peaked in the 1950's-70's in Marin, given the post-World War II boom and growth, and then declined with the eventual hiring of many more career firefighters.
The 'free rent' part was very helpful to many young firefighters, especially if they were going to college or trying to get hired in the fire service. A great deal of hands-on experience could be gained in a shorter amount of time, since you were typically there most days and nights. The situation also presented the opportunity to learn how to get along with others, pitch in with chores, and stay clean and organized in a somewhat cramped environment. Those that could not learn those lessons typically did not last very long in these programs.
Today, most of these programs no longer exist in Marin for many reasons, including a reduced need in the urban areas given many more career employees, and a lack of space. For some FD's, bad experiences with some personalities and unresolved conflicts led to the decision to stop offering the arrangement. This week we take an insider's look at one local program, from the perspective of one time sleeper and now retired Larkspur Chief Bill Lellis. Thanks to Bill for this contribution to our history project.
Our Blog announces new site content, and gives the context of the topic and it's relationship to fire service history. Written by Tom Forster.