Friday April 16th
We get together in the departure hall at Brussels Int. Airport, where we get checked thoroughly. After we say goodbye to our president, Marc Opstal, we leave Brussels with a 30 minutes delay on flight Delta 125 with destination Atlanta. Over the British Isles, we cross the Atlantic Ocean. During the flight, There is a passenger who needs medical assistance, so one of our Fireobservers, Pascal, gives a helping hand and administers first aid. The cabin personnel thank us by giving a bottle of red wine. Around 8.30 PM (Belgian time) we arrive in Atlanta, the International hub for Delta airlines. Time to rewind our watches for the first time, six hour difference with Belgium. It takes a while to get by Immigration and Customs, but after check, and double check we are now officially in the US, and have just enough time to eat our first fast food meal before we board our second flight to San Diego. It’s 6.30 PM local time (three more time zones) when we land in San Diego after a long and pleasant journey. Paul and Eric are already there to welcome us (they arrived 2 days earlier and made the last minute arrangements for this stay). We pick up our luggage and take the bus to the car rental agency. A 15 minutes drive takes us to our hotel for the next week, Super 8 motel on Hotel Circle North. After a quick shower and a stop at a liqueur store, we enjoy a few beers before we go to bed around 11 PM. Our biological clock is completely mixed up.
Saturday April 17th
At 2 PM we wake up the first time, it feels as if I have slept a long night, but that’s not true. At 5 AM I get up and take a shower; Paul was right when he told us we need a few days to adjust. When I get outside, I see that I’m not alone. The rest of the group is also up and running around on the corridor. After breakfast we leave with the group to the Heartland Training Facility in El Cayon, one of the city’s around San Diego. The Captain in charge gives us a tour of the facility and explains to us what the program of the day will be. A group of reserve personnel from the San Miguel FD is getting practical basic fire operation and extrication techniques. We can observe all of this, while the crews open up all the doors of the engine, rescue and truck so we can take pictures of all the material and discuss the working methods. We also take time to visit station 4 of the El Cayon FD that is adjacent to the training facility. At noon there is Pizza, but the rain makes us change our afternoon plans. We go to the Heartland HQ and visit the 911 dispatch and station 18 in the same building. Before returning (the rain has stopped) to the hotel, we get our first view of san Diego (Mission Bay, Cabrillo Ntl monument …)and have dinner at the “All you can eat” Chinese buffet at the Dragon House.
Sunday April 18th
Today we can choose: do a ride along or visit Sea World. The guys that go to Sea World have a wonderful day. Thanks to a local SDFD BC and the cooperation of Sea World Security staff all goes well, even with the rental car (inside joke). The ride along went as expected: a hearty welcome, exchange of ideas, good cooperation and several runs, mostly medical. It was an exhausting but very interesting day. I had a lot to tell to my fellow Fireobservers that evening. Sea world had a lot of long spectacular show’s featuring Orca Killer Whales, dolphins and sea otters, which resulted in a few red faced Belgian friends. Our skin was not adjusted to the Californian sun yet. After this full day we could sent the first group of 4 Belgians to the San Miguel FD for a nightly ride along.
Monday April 19th
Another ride along day for one part of the group, the other half had visits planned to the SDFD Maintenance Facility, the 911 dispatch center and the adjacent station 28 (the Dinosaur). A beautiful pin was given to us by the guys from 28 (thanks guys) In the afternoon we went to see the Lifeguard HQ at mission Bay. After that we took a ride across Coronado bridge and got a great view of Downtown San Diego from the other side of the bay. In the evening, a second group of 4 went to san Miguel for a nightly Ride Along.
Tuesday April 20th
Today we have a visit planned to CDF, the Californian Department of Forestry Fire Protection. They invited us to observe a training session of reserve personnel, close to the Mexican Border, 90 miles from San Diego. On the way there we had a little incident with the ‘Michael Bag’ (inside joke). CDF personnel gave us a demonstration on combating wildfires on roadsides, on steep mountain ranges and using helicopter assistance. The helicopter we saw was using a “bambi bucket” and made a few runs for us (great pictures). We talked with the staff about Firestorm, the devastating fire that in 2003 destroyed more than 2500 homes and killed 13 people. We felt a deep respect for the job they have to do in difficult circumstances. In the afternoon we continued our journey through the Californian desert to El Centro. At the Naval Air Station, we visited a Belgian F16 Squadron, who was there for their annual exercises. We got a great reception and were able to witness the take off of 4 F16’s. We ate a late lunch in the local bowling hall and had to drive back though the hot desert (great scenery) to san Diego. We made another stop at the Outlet store and returned late at the hotel, tired but with a great feeling about what we could witness today.
Wednesday April 21th
Again, another ride along day for one part of the group. The other half had visits planned to the SDFD Training Facility and Airport Fire Station. We got a chance to have a look at the USAR Warehouse while we waited for the crew from Engine 201 and Truck 1. With them we did a combined exercise on vehicle extrication. After our American Colleagues took one side of the vehicle apart, the Belgian Fireobservers took them through a guided tour on the methods we use in Belgium (and Holland) for the second half, the so called ICET method. In the evening we were picked up by 2 fellow firefighters from SDFD, who showed us the Gaslamp District Downtown. Dennis and David took us on a tour through a few famous bars and we had lot’s of Budweiser. For 4 Fireobservers we had a nightly ride along with the guys from the San Miguel FD.
Thursday April 22nd
We started this morning with a visit to the Union Shop. Souvenir T-shirts and sweaters, that’s what we wanted. At 9.30 AM we were arrive at the Airport. The crew from the SDFD Helicopter Fire And rescue team had invited us for a big demonstration with the helicopter that they use for rescue and firefighting operations. After lunch we got together again on a lake, some 30 miles from San Diego, where the demo continued. Tank fillings, waterdrops, rescue drills and cargo pick up, it all happened before our eyes. All of the Fireobservers were taken aboard for a ride, an unforgettable experience. After this fabulous event, some of us returned to the San Diego Fire stations for ride along. 4 of us went to San Miguel and got to meet the Fire Chief and the Mayor. The rest spend the evening Downtown.
Friday April 23rd
The last day of the official visit. We start with a visit to the Fire Chief’s office, Where Paul, our Teamchief, presents the San Diego Fire And Rescue Fire Chief a gift as a token of our appreciation for the wonderful week we all could enjoy. After that we make a quick stop at the uniform shop downtown, to pick up some patches and other FD stuff. Before returning to the hotel, we stop at the san Diego Fire Museum, to look at the enormous collection of Fire Department memoriables from the old days. The requested visit to Tijuana, Mexico, could not be organized so we had a free afternoon in the San Diego area. We went to La Jolla Beach, saw a group of wild sea lions enjoying the Californian sun, so we did the same and some of us even took a dive in the Pacific Ocean. In the evening the whole group went downtown for some more shopping and we said goodbye to the San Diego nightlife in Dick’s bar and restaurant over a few beers. Happy and satisfied we finished this first week of our trip, ready and eager to see what the second week would bring.
Saturday April 24th
Ever tried to pack the luggage of 16 persons into 3 cars, and still keep place for the 16 guys ? That’s what we had to do, because today we are leaving San Diego. The first stop today is Long Beach, Shoreline Village. We get a beautiful look at the ‘Queen Mary’, the cruiseliner that is berthed in the Harbor. Next stop, Santa Monica and Venice beach. We take stroll over this famous beach, where it is seeing and be seen. The pier, with all the attractions is our starting point from where we follow the coastline to Venice to se the baywatch scenes, the miles long muscle beach and we enjoy the Californian weather. Before returning to our motel in Hollywood via Rodeo drive we make a stop at station 14 in Beverly Hills. A unique visit, the first time ever the Fireobservers get in there. The group was very impressed. We all have dinner on Hollywood Blvd in a Pizza restaurant and start looking at all the famous stars on the boardwalk.
Sunday April 25th
Today we visit “ Universal Studios”, the world biggest filmstudio and amusement park. The park is very big and has something to offer to all of us. Shrek 4D, Backdraft, Terminator 2 3D, Back to the future, Jurassic Park, Studio, all special effects shows that made this day another well spend day that let us discover the ‘behind the scene’ secrets of all these movies. After the finale on the sets of waterworld, where stunt men and lots of explosions reenact the film, we head back to the hotel. But before returning there we make a stop at Griffith Park for the famous view of the Los Angeles Skyline. We have dinner at Sizzlers, Steak and Belgian Fries, as we are used at home.
Monday April 26th
After breakfast, we fill up the cars, and leave for Las Vegas; a 460 Km trip. We make a stop at Primm Valley Casino Resort for lunch and shopping (more luggage) and arrive around 4 PM in our hotel, The Fitzgerald Casino Hotel on Freemont Street. We all knew that Las Vegas was famous for the shows and gambling, but could not imagine that it was on this scale, what we saw was overwhelming. After the 8 PM show on Freemont Street, we board the city bus for a trip to ‘the strip’. The roadside shows, the gambling halls, it was an amazing journey. It was all big, bigger, biggest … more than words can describe. Mandalay Bay, Paris, Belagio, Treasure island, Venetian, Luxor, New York – New York, Excalibur, MGM and The Mirage, the all left a lasting impression, the night is to short. Some of us even got lucky when they gambled, most of us hoped to win ‘the fortune’, but the next morning we were brought back to the reality of the day
Tuesday April 27th
We start late this morning, a brunch at the Mandalay Bay restaurant. All you can eat, that’s what we want. In the afternoon, temperatures close to 100° F, we return to the strip, where we continue our exploration of all those fabulous Casino’s. By sunset, we arrive at the Stratosphere tower,(where we meet Christina Aquileira) and enjoy the beauty of Las Vegas by night from a height of 1000 feet. We return to Freemont street for the late night Freemont Experience and go to on time, tomorrow we have a 650 km trip to Flagstaff.
Wednesday April 28th
We rise early (5.00 AM), have a quick breakfast, Pack the luggage and leave for the longest trip on our tour. First stop; Hoover Dam. The first view of the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead are very impuissant. A short photoshoot and off to Kingsman on Route 66. There we take Hwy 40 to the Grand Canyon. The spectacle we see there when we arrive makes everybody quit. The Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Miracles of the world, is breathtaking beautiful. I can’t find the words to describe it. While we drive from one viewpoint to the next, we encounter 2 coyotes that cross the road just ahead of us. As if they wanted their picture taken. We go to HOPI point to se a spectacular sunset. Whow……….
We return by bus to our cars and have another 80 miles to go in the pitch black darkness before we arrive in our hotel in Flagstaff. We are all very tired and go straight to bed.
Thursday April 29th
Unimaginable, snow and hail greet us this morning. Flagstaff is 3000 ft above sea level, so this is natural. Filip insures us that we can have the shorts back on by noon. We have breakfast at the IHOP restaurant and leave for Phoenix by 9 AM. We take the road through Coconinno Natl. Forest and the Red Canyon Creek to Sedona. Beautiful Landscapes, this is the Wild West we know from the movies. Left and right on the road we can see al those huge cactuses, what a sight.
By the time we arrive in Phoenix, (temp = 100 °F), we head for our last stop on this trip. The Fire museum ‘ The Hall Of Flame’. Biggest collection of fire apparatus, badges, helmets and other fire fighting stuff in the world (that’s what the sign said). The end of the trip was coming near, but e spent our last night in Motel 6 Scottsdale. In the evening, Dominique and Steve (both of them had their birthday) treat us to a bathtub full of cooled beer and softdrinks. Paul is got us KFC fried chicken so we had all the ingredients for our last night in the US. It’s already very late when we go to bed, but it was an evening of friendship, fun and lot’s of laughter.
Friday April 30th
The taste of Budweiser in my mouth, It’s 5 AM and back to reality. The trip is over, Time to go home. Last time packing the cars and we head in the direction of the Airport. After we return the rental Cars, we check in and have time for a last ‘American Breakfast’ in Dick Clark ‘s Grill. After that, we head for the departure gate for flight Delta 428. It’s amazing to notice that leaving the States is much simpler then entering. We have a pleasant flight and after a stop in Atlanta we arrive in Brussels at the scheduled time. Family, friends and our President Marc Opstal are there to welcome us. This is really the end of a wonderful journey. After we have a last drink together, we all go our own way with the promise to meet again in a month. Trip San Diego 2004 is over.
My special words of thanks go to our organizers.
Paul, Eric an Filip, It’s not only on my behalf that I can say that the SD trip 2004 was a wonderful and very successful trip. With your flexible attitude and under not always easy circumstances you managed to adapt the program to everybody’s desires and wishes. Thanks.
Frank Dumez, Dow Chemical Fire Brigade
Translated by Paul Vanlook and Sharon K Banwell