The Ball Was A Fire

The Red Hot Mamas were back (though a different group of them; last year’s dancers were courtesy of State Street Ballet), as was John Palminteri, Betty and Joi Stephens, David Sadecki, Franc Chacon, Margie Niehaus, Cathy Cash and other founders of the Santa Barbara Firefighters Alliance. They were together again to stage the Second Annual Fire Ball fundraiser in a tent on the lawn in front of Betty Stephens’ Hope Ranch home.

Nineteen thermal imaging cameras (at $11,000 each) are desired and needed by Santa Barbara City and County firefighters, so the silent auction offered 19 lines upon which to add one’s auction number and purchase an imaging camera for a firefighter.

Captain Chris Mailes notes that the Bullard Thermal Imaging Camera was originally purchased for use during structure fire responses, but have since been used for much more. “In a structure fire,” Mailes explains, “you usually can’t see anything; the smoke goes right to the ground. These cameras see right through the smoke. In the old days,” he continues, “if we had a wall outlet that had been smoking, we would cut out the whole wall, from the floor to the ceiling, to make sure there was no fire in the wall. Now, we just scan the wall with this and we can check the temperature in the wall. We don’t have to open up the whole wall. We’ve saved [fire victims] thousands of dollars in damage from a fire.”

Captain Mailes points out too that, “We can scan looking for victims outside of a fire also. Take a vehicle accident, for example,” he says, “a traffic accident where a car has gone over the side. We can actually pull the thermal imager out and can scan a hillside looking for a victim that may be obscured by darkness, or a bush, or what have you. Its applications are more far-reaching than we had initially planned.”

Mailes says the department is trying to place one such thermal imager “on every front-line apparatus.” The county has 15 frontline rigs, and currently there is one on only seven of them. The city has eight frontline engines; only four are equipped with the imagers. Other items in demand include Hot Sticks ($350), Gas Detectors ($400), Turnout Boots ($255), Satellite Phones ($2,800), Night Vision Goggles ($12,000), Table Style Moving Maps ($9,000), and a separate $10,000 to buy firefighter rain gear.

Betty Stephens looks tired when she takes the podium, but manages to quip (with a smile) that “there’s enough money in this tent to bail us out of Iraq”; Betty hosted the 400-plus Girls Inc affair that featured Nobel Prize-winner Wangari Maathai and an appearance by Oprah Winfrey just last month.

“Tonight is dedicated to the firefighters,” Betty declared to hoots, whistles, and loud applause. She paused before adding, “The women firefighters,” to even louder hoots, screams, whistles, and applause, and then pointed to the back table on the side addition to the main tent, where lady firefighters had gathered around former Santa Barbara mayor Harriet Miller. The group of them stood up and acknowledged the crowd’s approval with hands held high.

Emcee John Palminteri took the stage to the musical strains of “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” and caused a few groans and rolling eyeballs when he asked, with his copyrighted smile, “Whoever thought that [Ms Stephens] would put on the ninety-nine-cent version of a fundraiser?” The reference was to Betty’s earlier comments that she had re-used many of the items from last year’s Fire Ball.

Palminteri then joked that the Firefighter Alliance had made it through an entire year with “no major headlines, no court cases, no law suits, not even a little slap fight,” which was a dig at the Sheriff’s Council, immersed as it is in all of the above.

The entire political spectrum turned out for this Fire Ball, including the aforementioned Ms Miller; Salud Carbajal, Susan Rose, the Honorable George Eskin, former Fire Chief (and former Sheriff) Jim Thomas, SBCC head John Romo, SB City Council member Iya Falcone, former mayor Hal Conklin, and administrator Jim Armstrong, were among the attendees. Arlene Geeb flew in from Fiji the night before. Other big bidders included Santa Barbara’s Golden Couple Michael Towbes and Anne Smith, septuagenarian art-loving philanthropist Gene Sinser and his wife, Patty DeDominic.

Firefighters Alliance directors Cathy Cash, Joi Stephens, and Joe Sadecki thanked those attending and introduced County Fire Chief John Scherrei and City Fire Chief Ron Prince. The two men came forward to the strains of “Hail To The Chief.”

The dinner was catered by Fresco; afterwards bids came quickly once Layla Khashoggi took the microphone and began the live auction: $7,000 for a Dario dinner (and wines from Firestone Winery) for ten in the bidder’s home; $20,000 for two dinners for 20 at Foley Vineyards; $4,000 for a week in the Khashoggi’s 3-bedroom, 2-bath Tahoe condo; $5,500 for Dinner With Betty at her home, courtesy of Elements Restaurant; $9,000 for a 14-person sunset cruise on board the 120’ yacht Lara; $3,500 for 3 nights in London’s Lancaster Hotel and another 3 nights in St Jean Cap Ferrat at the Royal Riviera Hotel.

Layla kept the party going even after the rapid-fire auction; she informed the audience that “nobody is going home.” The valets were on a one-hour break. “So you might as well get up and dance,” she smiled. And they did, to the frenetic beat of Missbehavin’.

Speaking Of Stories

There were five short stories, all written by T.C. Boyle, and performed by the likes of Charles de L’Arbre, Joseph Velasco, Joe Spano, Julie Pearl, and T.C. himself. These were Speaking of Stories’ last performances until next year and served to illustrate just how proficient and talented a short-story writer Mr. Boyle is. “The Champ,” for example, read flawlessly by Mr. de L’Arbre, is an intense pugilistic preparation for a food-eating challenge. As the champ’s records are picked off one by one by a brash newcomer, the champ makes one final defense of his most important title. The short story, particularly as read by de L’Arbre, holds its intensity through humor and sly observation. Joseph Velasco’s reading of “Zapatos,” a tale of too many shoes, and Julie Pearl’s handling of “Hands On” were both deft and poignant.

Joe Spano, formerly of TV’s “Hill Street Blues” read T.C.’s “Swept Away,” in the required Scottish accent from beginning to end. Mr. Boyle wrapped it up with a soulful reading of “La Conchita.”

“Swept Away,” he tale of a star-crossed couple on an island off the coast of Scotland, reputably one of the windiest places on earth, was first read by T.C. at a “New York Times Book Country” brunch reading in New York City that included celebrities like Carolyn Kennedy. “I had just written the story,” relates T.C. backstage after the show. He admits he’d never visited the island himself. “Of course, in the audience,” he continues, “was some guy who was born and raised on the island and came up to criticize me. What are the chances of that?” he laughed.

Ward Connerly To Speak In Santa Barbara

A “Women for Victory” Luncheon, sponsored by RITA (Research Issues and Take Action), a Republican Women’s Club, will take place in the Ronald Reagan Room at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Inn on Flag Day, Wednesday, June 14th. Keynote Speaker is Ward Connerly, author, former UC Regent, and founder and chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute. The theme of his talk will be: “America’s Promise Realized: Getting Beyond Race”; price for the luncheon and talk is $40.

Mr. Connerly is author of the book, “Creating Equal: My fight against Race Preferences,” and has written and spoken extensively on the subject of race relations in America. If you would like to attend, you are urged to send your payment to: Joy Holman at 110 Eucalyptus Hill Circle, SB CA 93103 by June 10th. There will be no payments accepted at the door.

Other Treats & Local Events

There are a couple other events you should not miss if you have the money, time, or inclination:

Opera Santa Barbara’s Venetian Carnival

This historically fun event is slated to take place at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on Sunday June 4th, beginning at 5:30 pm. There will be arias sung, auction items auctioned off, cocktails consumed, Italian food (from Four Seasons Biltmore) to feast upon, wine (from Palmina and Royal Oaks) to wet your whistles, and a costume contest too. If you’ve never seen the courthouse’s famous Mural Room decked out as a Venetian palace, you should attend just for the visual splendor of it all. Tickets are $225 per person. Call 805-898-3890 for more information.

Passport to New Zealand

Takes place on Saturday night, June 3rd at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum at 113 Harbor Way. The event will honor Jean and Barry Schuyler. There will be a “full New Zealand style menu” island dancers, dancing to the music of Swing Break, and perhaps best of all, dress is casual. Tickets are $175; for more information, call 805-962-8404, ext. 103.

Tapas, Vino y Arte

The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation presents Tapas, Vino y Arte at El Presidio on the following Saturday, June 10, from 4 pm to 7 pm. This is the Trust’s 2nd Annual Fundraiser and features wine from local wineries, tapas from local restaurants, and the opportunity to bid on works of art from local artists. Music will be supplied by the seven-piece Laguna Blanca School Jazz Band. Cost is $75; for more information or to purchase tickets, call 805-965-0093.