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August 11, 2022

Ben Lomond FD Pancake Breakfast Raises $9,000

They have specially-designed new ones now, but the original red-and-white-striped shirts worn by the Ben Lomond Fire Protection District firefighters are actually authentic Australian rugby sweaters.

It’s what 21-year-old volunteer Mateo Corona was sporting behind the grill at their annual pancake breakfast fundraiser July 3.

“I’m pumping out twice what those guys are pumping out,” he bragged, looking down the line at the other Where’s Waldo-looking characters. “I’m glad we got such a great turnout, because we didn’t know what to expect.”

Assistant Fire Chief Mike Ayers said that’s because it’s the first time in three years they’ve been able to hold the event, due the pandemic. There was also the question of how many people would show up, after so many were forced to leave when the CZU Lightning Complex fire tore through the community.

“I got here at 5:30,” he said. “A lot of guys kinda have their spot on the grill.”

The community has already managed to raise $180,000 for the Type 6 engine, which can be used to fight wildfires, and $100,000 for new radios.

Almost everyone in the region was touched by the CZU fire in one way or another, he noted.

“Those that didn’t lose their homes were evacuated for about a week,” he said.

The money raised at the pancake breakfast will be put towards outfitting the new engine.

This gear will allow them to head further afield and communicate on radio bands that emergency crews outside Santa Cruz Counties use, like last year, when they responded to the Caldor Fire.

Lenka Lukacova, 35, and her husband Michal Lukac, 33, said they were excited to bring their 8-week-old son Mojmir Lukac and 3-year-old daughter Libuse Lukacova to the event.

(The longer form is the feminized version of the Czech family’s last name.)

They decided to move to Boulder Creek from San Jose a couple years back.

“The pandemic made us reconsider living in the city,” she said. “It’s even harder for the little ones, because they want to go outside and play.”

But the day they moved just happened to be Aug. 15, 2020—one day before the CZU Lightning Complex fire broke out.

The power went out at their place, so they decided to head back to San Jose.

“We realized we had technically evacuated,” Lukac said.

Lukacova explained they ended up staying in Santa Clara County for six weeks, before they could return.

“’The fire actually came to the border of our property,” she said. “It was really nerve-wracking looking at the fire maps.”

“—and wondering how good your fire insurance is,” Lukac added.

In the months that followed, they began to embrace the Santa Cruz Mountain life. Lukac says they’ve been anxious to soak up the true flavor of the San Lorenzo Valley, but notes it’s been difficult to parse things, since gatherings like the pancake breakfast are only coming back now.

“I’m glad they started doing these events again,” he said. “It’s a way of seeing the kind of community we live in.”

Lukacova says she hopes the character of the San Lorenzo Valley will be preserved, despite the recent challenges.

“You hear how the community was, how it was supposed to work,” she said. “I got curious trying to figure out if the community was indeed the same…if the new people were changing the community—or if the community were changing the (new) people.”

Dennis Acosta, 48, and Dai Accosta, 16, are another couple of the new additions. They just moved into a house in Ben Lomond last year.

“I like it. It’s quiet,” Dennis says, remarking on the excellent fluffy texture of the pancakes. “I’m very fortunate to have good neighbors.”

Sitting across the table, Stephen Payne, a 75-year-old Navy veteran, is one of the old-timers. He lives in upper Zayante and was a bit late because he’d been helping a friend with a plumbing issue earlier that morning.

He says, given the lack of rain this year, it’s more important than ever to make sure the fire department is supported.

“I’m just not used to such dry weather in the winter,” he said. “It rained twice.”

Firefighter Steve Ruff, 43, of Ben Lomond, says his wife grew up in this department, since her father was part of it.

“She’s been to more pancake breakfasts than any of us,” he said, adding he’s attended about 15, himself. “It’s been a good turnout, comparatively.”

He’s about to fly out to Kansas with Capt. Matthew Sanders to inspect the new Type 6 engine—and then road-trip their way back to California with it.

One thing they’ll be testing out are the interior speakers.

“You gotta have a nice sound system,” he said, adding if Sanders blasts his country music, well, “I might have to put my earbuds in.”

By the end of breakfast, the department said it had already brought in upwards of $9,000.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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