Samantha Sweeden was in an ambulance caring for a patient with a respiratory emergency in 2015 when the vehicle hit a bad pass and she was thrown inside. Ultimately, her injuries forced her to retire from CalFire in 2020, and she still struggles with heavy lifting.
She has since run Bella Vita Mobile Detailing, out of Scotts Valley, and recently served a six-month stint as administrative chief of the Branciforte Fire Protection District, preparing it for a possible merger with the Fire Department. Scotts Valley fire.
But in the wake of the recent wildfires, she’s looking to do more to give back.
She decided to organize a team to travel to El Dorado County – the place where she got her start as a firefighter – to repair two engines damaged by wear and tear after the Caldor fire. last summer. A Santa Cruz County crew also helped push that blaze, which burned 222,000 acres and injured five people.
Sweeden explains how a new outer layer can do wonders for fire truck longevity.
“What happens is that when you put the ceramic coating on, it’s basically a protective barrier around the whole vehicle,” she said on April 1, the day before the start of the renovation. “We all do it for free.”
Over the years, Sweeden has seen how retardant drips from firefighting aircraft can stain engines. She’s seen how long it can take to clean it up after a savage battle. In addition, the trucks are constantly scratched by branches and other vegetation, she added, explaining why she gathered designers from Hawaii, Oregon, Idaho and the Sacramento Valley for the pro bono task.
To do the job well, she estimated that she would have to invest about $6,000 of her own money for supplies alone.
But she contacted Bob and Dave Phillips of P&S Detail Products to see if they would be willing to participate.
“All of a sudden Bob calls me and says, ‘I’m going to give you everything to do the job; we want to help you give back,” she recalls. “They pretty much donated all the products to do the coating.”
Buff and Shine, based in Rancho Dominguez, donated the swabs that are essential to complete the job, she says.
“It looks like a glass finish,” she says, adding that one wrong move at this stage can spell disaster for the vehicle’s body. “You can burn through.”
It was the day before the big volunteer project. Sweeden had just returned from the Sacramento airport to pick up Kelly Mankin, the owner of Ake Ake Professional Detailing.
Sweeden was thrilled to have Mankin on the initiative, given her role with the elite Detail Mafia organization and the fact that she helps upgrade the Air Force One aircraft located at the aviation pavilion in the Museum of Flight in Tukwila, Washington.
Sweeden hopes one day to have the opportunity to follow in Mankin’s footsteps as a retired presidential jet designer.
In the end, eight people took part in the regional “Detail Mafia” mission organized by Sweden.
After three shoulder surgeries, Sweeden had to quit firefighting. And above all, she misses the opportunities to contribute to the well-being of the region, she says.
“It sucks because then you’re in the ordinary world,” she says, thinking back to how meaningful it was to participate in charity events. “You can make spaghetti and crab meals to give back to the community.”
Sweeden says she is working with the Scotts Valley Chamber of Commerce to host a charity car show next year.
But the Caldor fire hit close to home, literally. The house her father built (which she now owns) is located in Pollock Pines, less than a quarter mile from the perimeter of the wildfire.
“It’s like the Felton area,” she says. “There are a lot of trees.”
On Saturday, the group drove to Station 28 in Shingle Springs and got to work on Engine 328, a 12-year-old truck.
“It’s the engine they use in the response teams,” she reported Monday morning. “Looks like it’s always gone in the summer,” they said. He badly needed help; the paint in some places was failing… We got there just in time.
On Sunday, the retailer collective was about 40 minutes down the road in Pollock Pines upgrading Eldorado County Motor 17 to Station 17.
“We had fun,” she said. “The guys at the station, especially Station 28, were grateful and interested in learning how to protect and continue to nurture what we were doing.”
For Sweeden, that was the best part of the whole experience.
“When people are so invested in knowing how to maintain what we spend so much time fixing, it makes all the hard work and time worth it,” she says.
Next year, she says she hopes to do a similar project in Santa Cruz County.