Just saying his names can bring a smile to your face. We know who Jim Stiglich is – and we know him by many names: Jimmy, Jim, Stig, Stiggy. I think he prefers Stiggy, but he’d never tell you. We all know him, but there are many on the job who don’t. Stiggy is somewhat unknown. And why is that? Well for starters, that’s how he wants it. Stiggy isn’t the type of person to sing his own praises or to seek acknowledgment for his many accomplishments. Secondly, more than half of our firefighter rank has less than 10 years on the job. These young firefighters don’t know what to make of Jimmy. He’s kind of quiet, not the biggest guy, no tattoos, no monster truck . . . They end up dismissing him and the miss out on working with one of the finest firefighters this City has seen.
Jimmy has only worked at a handful of assignments. After probation in Battalion 3, Jim was assigned to 58’s, 35’s, 20’s, 72’s, and 100’s. Jim finds a home and he stays there until he feels his job is done. You have to be lucky to get to work with Stiggy. When he is satisfied that he has gained all of the experience he can and when he is sure that he is leaving that station and the district a better place, Stiggy simply moves on to one of the spots he is being heavily recruited for.
We have all heard the poem “What is a Firefighter.” I won’t bore you with reciting it, but my favorite part is at the end:
“He doesn’t wear buttons or wave flags or shout obscenities.
When he marches, it is to honor a fallen comrade.
He doesn’t preach the brotherhood of man.
He lives it.”
It is rare to find a firefighter who so embodies the sentiment of that poem, but Stiggy does.
When I think of Jim Stiglich, three words come to mind: Family, Competence and Simplicity.
Family: Jimmy is a 56 year resident of Van Nuys. From the words of his mother Nancy, “from the time he was a little boy his favorite toy was a fully-loaded tool belt.” Jim attended St Genevieve High School and he later earned a Bachelor’s degree in Geology from Cal State Northridge. Jimmy spent several years working for the Student Conservation Corps and the National Park Service. In 1987, after five seasons with the Forest Service, he joined the LAFD.
Stiggy has never married. He has devoted his life to serving this Fire Department and to serving his family. Not many know that his middle name is “Lee” and that the name comes from his Grandfather. Stiggy spent the last two years of his Grandpa’s life burning all of his VC, banked time, and holidays taking care of him and driving him around the country making sure they spent as much time together as possible.
On his days off, Stiggy can be found maintaining his parent’s home or spending time with his nephews and nieces. His mother told me that, without Jimmy’s help, there is no way they could continue to stay in their current home.
Competence: Jimmy is a 26-year veteran of the LAFD and he has served on some of the largest events in our Department’s history: The civil disturbance, the Northridge earthquake, the Malibu Brush Fires, the crash of Fire 3, 9/11.
Nothing affected Jim like 9/11. He is a USAR instructor and is a member of the elite team that was sent to New York. Jimmy spent 10 days on the pile, looking tirelessly for any signs of life.
Shortly after 9/11, Jim went back to New York with 100 other firefighters to bring large donations back to the families of those who lost their lives during this tragedy. Instead of following the crowd and taking advantage of all the wonderful things NYC had offered them, Jim took a bus with seven other firefighters to New Jersey to go back and thank the elementary through high school students who had washed their clothes and put hand drawn “thank you cards” in their laundry and returned fresh clothing during the LAFD’s rescue efforts.
I had the pleasure of being Jim’s captain for two years – but Jim didn’t need a captain. Turn around at any incident and you’ll find him doing the right thing at the right time. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to pay attention to this man and to learn the lessons he was teaching – the lessons on how to be a better firefighter, how to be a better person, and how to be a better servant to my fellow man.
Jim has chosen to stay a firefighter for the last 26 years, and I don’t use the word “chosen” lightly. Jim is a natural leader of men, and he could have been any position on this job, but he has chosen to stay a firefighter. Why? It’s who he is. Jim doesn’t want to get caught up in the politics of running this Department. Jim would rather be in the trenches, performing his duties with the quiet competence that we have come to expect from him. Go to any fire and that’s where you will find him, working away in the trenches. Go to one of the many charity events that he works at. You won’t find him at the podium; Jimmy will be back behind the scenes working away. All he asks is a “thank you” and a firm handshake in return.
There is nothing he can’t do. Stiggy is a: master welder, he can rebuild an engine, he can build a house, run wiring, plumbing. Jim is a “Jack of all trades” and a Master of all of them.
Simplicity: Jimmy is a modern day cowboy. An “Old school Fireman.” He has very simple tastes. He drives an old beat up truck. He spends his vacations camping and fishing, or helping his family or a friend in need. He doesn’t wear fancy clothes or buy expensive things. Jimmy saves his money and lives on very little.
Before the markets came crashing down in 2008, Jim made a decision to move all of his money in Deferred Compensation into a cash account. Did he see the market crash coming? Was it because he read the Wall Street Journal? Ask Jim and he’ll tell you, “I just had enough money.” Jim feels so blessed to have a pension waiting for him that he couldn’t imagine needing anymore than he already had.
Jimmy has the ability to fix a problem before you even realize it’s an issue. When we were working together at 72’s, Jim told me that his retirement plan was to vanish like a thief in the night. No retirement dinner, no announcements in the Grapevine, he would simply ride off into the sunset. I remember thinking what a tragedy it would be to let him go unacknowledged. But I also thought “Classic Stiggy.” It would be so easy to do. Jim has performed his duties so humbly, so quietly, never seeking recognition, even though it has often found him.
Allowing us to give him a retirement dinner is Jimmy’s last and greatest sacrifice to us. No one is more uncomfortable than Jim right now!
The LAFD is so good at so many things but we are terrible at three:
- Saying “Thank you”
- Saying how much we mean to each other
- Saying “Good-Bye”
Jim, tonight we have all gathered here to tell you this.
By Mark Curry