Firefighters lament Lilygren’s last meal
A firefighter’s firefighter, John Lilygren is known for his calming presence, his cooking and his mustache.
Lilygren, battalion chief for South Lake Tahoe Fire Department, is using his vacation days to ease into retirement June 1 after 32 years of being a firefighter.
“The guy was just rock solid,” said Mike Chandler, fire chief. “The best thing I can say is he was the stabilizing influence.”
“People lined up to work with him,” said Capt. John Hartzell.
Lilygren, 55, was born and raised in Chico. He spent stints in South Lake Tahoe after high school graduation, working in the food service at the casinos. He became a volunteer cadet when a friend encouraged him to join the program. The friend later quit.
Lilygren stuck with it and in November of 1971 he was hired full time. It was also the month his mustache grew.
Firefighters who remarked about Lilygren cited his calmness as a crucial aspect that he brought to the job. In a profession that deals with stressed-filled events like structure fires, quick rescues and car accidents, being levelheaded is perhaps the best compliment around.
Firefighters also digged his cooking at the firehouse. “The problem with working with him is you start gaining weight,” Hartzell said.
“I don’t know if they like my cooking or if it gave them an out and they didn’t have to cook,” Lilygren said.
One of the worst calls, and one he still thinks about, was the rescue of a 4-year-old boy who wandered from his baby sitter and drowned in the Upper Truckee River. Lilygren pulled the body out of the water.
He learned from television news while on vacation about the bomb at Harveys Resort and Casino in 1980. He was off-duty during the Gondola fire in the summer of 2002 but went to a station to field calls and cover city operations.
“You want to be there,” he said of the bigger incidents. “You always have that feeling that you can help out.”
Since he started, the city has changed. A fire station moved to Ski Run Boulevard because of redevelopment. “I remember in 1968 in the off-season you could drive from the “Y” to Stateline and maybe not see another car,” Lilygren said.
Lilygren is not considering a move but has no real plans for retirement. Maybe a boat. Perhaps some fishing. But Lilygren can walk away from a career he loved without a single regret.
“It’s been the best career I could have ever imagined,” Lilygren said. “When I moved up here I never expected to stay in Tahoe for 35-plus years. I have grown with Tahoe. I’ve never found a better place (but) the winters get awfully long.”