Calif. firehouse goes green

By Alex Breitler
The Record

STOCKTON, Calif. — Although the firetrucks parked in the bay are a sparkling red, Stockton's Fire Station 7 on Hammer Lane is looking decidedly green.

A hand-printed sign by the kitchen sink politely reminds firefighters that their food scraps, wrappers and soiled paper towels can be thrown in the green bin for composting.

Plastic bags that would otherwise be buried in landfills are collected for recycling. So are the dozens of dead batteries that crews used in flashlights and headlamps.

These strategies, introduced by a pair of fire captains, also can be used at home. After all, the city's fire stations are more like residences than businesses, with firefighters sleeping and cooking meals there.

"If people at the firehouse are doing it, then maybe everyone else can, too," said Capt. Allen Barnes, a 27-year veteran of the Fire Department.

Barnes said he is not sure how he got started on this green kick. A woodworker in his free time, he recently built a bench for his home using wood recycled from an old fence.

His comrade Capt. Mike Simon grew up working in a family-owned store and was taught to recycle everything possible to earn a little extra money.

Now Simon is pushing the same standard on his fellow firefighters.

"A lot of times, I think people just need direction," he said.

Barnes and Simon have become the "shining stars" of the city's recycling scene, said Susan Mora Loyko, Stockton's assistant solid waste manager.

"They do it because it's the right thing to do," she said. "These guys are really the superheroes of recycling."

While recycling has become more convenient with rollout residential bins, confusion remains over exactly which materials can be tossed in which bins, Loyko said.

At Station 7, Simon and Barnes are trying to clear things up.

A bowl set on the kitchen counter is dedicated to materials that few realize can be thrown into the green waste container for composting. Napkins, pizza boxes, milk cartons, coffee grounds and paper takeout containers are all fair game for the green bin. In the restroom, separate bins have been installed to collect paper towels.

And the station's yellow recycling bin — good for anything from water jugs to waffle irons — is strategically placed so that anyone practically stumbles over it to get to the garbage.

All this has reduced the station's waste.

"It's getting better, little by little," Simon said.

Simon and Barnes are known for converting firefighters at other stations as well during periodic shift swaps, said Battalion Chief Michael Lilienthal, a spokesman for the Fire Department.

"Sometimes you'll even see them digging through the trash," he said. "They're pretty dedicated."

Copyright 2007 The Record
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News

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