When a firefighter gets his picture in the paper, tradition says he must buy ice cream for his peers. But Steve Bitto, 58, won’t have to do that this time. This picture was taken at Sept. 24 party marking his retirement after 27 years with Cambria Fire Department and a total of 33 years as a firefighter.
Bitto started his career of service as a 20-year-old working with the Cambria ambulance crew in 1978. That’s when the Coast Union High School grad became an emergency medical technician.
Fellow firefighters and friends attended the Sept. 24 retirement gathering at the fire station, and many of them also joined Bitto when the Cambria Community Services District honored him later that day for a career that included being a fire captain, arson investigator, public-education officer, water-rescue instructor and co-creator of the North Coast Ocean Rescue Team.
After receiving the official proclamation, Bitto described firefighting in a small town.
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“During my career, I’ve been on more calls than I can count,” he said, including “structure and wildland fires, traffic accidents, surf rescues and cliff rescues, medical-aid calls, gas leaks, trees down on power lines, on cars, on houses and even on people.”
He said his career in the urban-rural community also included “lots of animal calls: Cows on Highway 1, bulls loose on Lodge Hill, bats in houses, cats in trees, cats in wells, cats on roofs and cats under houses. And even iguanas loose in town.”
Bitto said he’s often asked how a firefighter handles so many tough situations. “First, you need to love the job. Second, you need to have good training and be able to trust yourself. Thirdly, you need good people to work with, our fire family. And we have a great fire family. … They all have at least one thing in common … an unrelenting commitment to helping others in need.”
Bitto and wife Cindy said at the retirement party that their plans include lots of travel soon, including a cross-country trip filled with hiking, fishing and visits with family. He also plans to volunteer in fire service and continue teaching ocean-rescue techniques for Fire Management Consultants, for whom he’s taught everywhere from Cambria to Belize and Singapore.