8,000 Hours With Our Firefighters

LA MESA -- George H. W. Bush was president in 1991 when Joan Allenson applied for a volunteer job with the La Mesa Fire Department.

Today, 23 years later, she has seen fire chiefs come and go, young firefighters turn into middle-age men and women join the ranks. The Department itself is now known as the Heartland Fire & Rescue.

And Joan is still here.

Each week she spends three days keeping the payroll in order, picking up and distributing checks and cheerfully greeting the public who come to the door with all sorts of needs and problems.

"She's out there every week keeping this place together,'' said Deputy Chief Greg McAlpine (in photo below). "She does a great job.''

And the price is right. No salary and no raise in the 23 years of service.

Recently, the department stopped, as it does every few years, to mark a new milestone in Allenson's work. This one was 8,000 hours and was marked with a badge collection to go with the personalized chief hat they gave her years ago.

Allenson's story is like many of the La Mesa residents who came here during a population boomlet in the middle of the last century. She arrived in 1951, driving with her husband in a car they were delivering for an auto dealer. They had no job, little money and had to give up the car to be sold. 

Her husband found work in the aviation industry and she eventually joined on with the phone company, retiring after two kids and 21 years of paid service. Then she took up her work with 


"I didn't want to just sit at home, so when I saw this request for help, I came in,'' she said.

She is clearly adored by the firefighters, included in the official department portrait in the lobby, and feted as each milestone passes.

At 84, she hopes to keep driving and won't surprise anyone if she surpasses the 10,000 hour mark that wins her a place in the city's cherished volunteer Walk of the Stars on La Mesa Boulevard.

She seems to have the perfect temperament to keep firefighters on their toes.

"I remind them once in a while that I'm from Chicago,'' she says. "I tell them 'I know people who can take care of them if they don't stay in line!'''

Gina Garcia is a Realtor (CalBRE #01704251) and is publisher of LaMesaToday.com. To contact her, e-mail Gina@GinaGarcia.net or call (619) 818-6982.

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Comment by Andrew Jackson on September 20, 2014 at 1:11pm

Great story. Thank you, Joan Allenson, for your many years of service!

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