Fireman Quinto still blazing after 30 years of active service

Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thirty years ago Wednesday, 19-year-old Ed Quinto walked into the back door of the Juneau Fire Department for his first day of paid duty. He was promptly handed a bucket and mop and told to clean the entire station.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

"Then a call came in about a fainting victim," Quinto, now 49, said. "It was just up the street on Seward. My first 24-hour shift and I couldn't sleep at all that night. I was so excited and I didn't want to miss a call."

A lot has changed in fire apparatus and response since then, but more importantly, Ed Quinto has stayed the same.

"I want to help people," Quinto said. "My parents remember me saying that when I was 5-years-old. I knew growing up that I wanted to be part of the medical field; I wanted to be active in helping people."

Born in the Philippines, Quinto's family came to Juneau when he was 13. His father was in the coast guard.

A neighborhood rival named Andrea eventually became a friend. The two married as students at JDHS and now have four boys; Edward, 31, Christopher, 29, Joshua, 10, Matthew, 8, and, as of three weeks ago, a granddaughter, Sarah.

"The first two got old and stopped wanting to do fun things with mom and dad," Quinto said with a laugh. "We tried doing normal adult stuff like cruises without the kids but it got boring. So, we decided to have more kids."

In 1979, Quinto, then a senior at JDHS, became a volunteer at the Glacier Fire Station, now the site of First National Bank.

"I became a volunteer my senior year because I didn't have very many classes," Quinto said. "Fire department initiation rites included a dunking into Jordan Creek."

Quinto went to EMT classes at UAS and was hired as a permanent fire fighter July 21, 1980 under the Medic 1 program. He became a Fire-Lieutenant Medic 1 on Nov. 2 ,1991 and a Fire-Captain Medic 1 Feb. 9, 2001. He is currently Acting Division Chief until a new-hire comes on line.

Quinto's rookie fire calls were a series of horn blasts from the top of the old ferry service building, now the site of Marie Drake Middle School. The echoing foghorn sounding blasts sent shivers up his boots.

"I was nervous," Quinto said. "New guy, new EMT and fire skills ... my foot would be shaking on the throttle of those old Seagrave fire engines. I have gotten over the shaking, but the excitement of going to calls is still there. After 30 years, I still enjoy getting up in the middle of night and helping people; matter of fact, I am putting a fire pole in my kids' tree house."

The team would slide down poles to trucks. Pull-station boxes on telephone poles allowed the public to activate alarms. Heavy fire gear would get heavier in the rain, and cotton-line hoses with brass couplings hadn't yet given way to synthetic materials.

Quinto said it is different every day, from a full structure fire to someone falling down a hill, to car accidents and hazardous spills. The best of people is seen along with the worst.

The Juneau Cold Storage fire took place where the library now sits. Quinto fought the week-long blaze. Quinto's was the first engine in. He fought through thick smoke to get the first hose in.

"We as fire fighters are always in danger," Quinto said. "It is a different mental skill each time," he said. "It really challenges your mind. You have to set your feelings to the side, because you know everyone, and just get the job done."

He learned from many now-retired people including Larry Fanning, Mike Sturrock, Alan Judson, Kerry Korter, Jerry Godkin, and Jim Carroll. He has responded to calls in the Capitol building and the Governor's Mansion, and involving airport jets, restaurants, bars, cruise ships, naked joggers and even the famous 'cat up a tree.'

In that incident, very early in his career, Quinto was told to take an engine to the Admiralty Condominiums on Douglas. The 100-foot ladder truck needed an extra five feet as the cat, claws bared, jumped from the tree to Quinto's face and ran to the ground.

Said Quinto, "Our policy now is we don't go after cats in trees because, well, you never see cat skeletons in trees, do you?"

Capital City Fire and Rescue doesn't rely on outside resources. They take care of fires, emergency medical services, medevacs, rope rescues, water rescues and avalanche rescues. They sometimes even respond to calls with the Juneau Police Department and the Coast Guard.

Said Quinto, "Anything that happens in the City and Borough of Juneau. Skier out of bounds, two in the morning, oh yeah, we are there."

One of his most traumatic calls was a helicopter that perished on the Mendenhall ice fields.

Said Quinto, "There was nothing left for us to deal with; pieces everywhere. That was the worst time in my career, all those people..."

Quinto said that the closeness of the department and the unique breed of the firefighter help them deal with situations like that.

"And we talk a lot," Quinto said. "I got over driving the big red fire truck a long time ago. I got over blowing the sirens. It is all about the people I work with. Seeing the department grow and the people in it grow. I still love the fire department and I love what we do for those we serve and help in the community."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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