StachetoberFest 2023

StachetoberFest 2023

Ladies and Gentlemen…and CalFire, it is with great honor that we support the Josh Bischof and Tim Rodriguez family as the recipients of the 2023 StachetoberFest event.
There are a lot of good folks in the fire service, but there are a few really, really, great ones. We have all had the pleasure of working with them. They stand out, change, and affect our lives in ways that would not be so, had we not met them. Josh and Tim are two of these folks, and they will be sorely missed, especially by their families. I urge you to support them in whatever way you can. Whether it’s donating cold hard cash or drinking lots and lots of beer. It’s going to be a fun time.

Now, since these two gentlemen belong to CalFire, we need to address some issues that will likely come about at this year’s festival: Mustache-Envy.

CalFire, I need to prepare you— there are going to be a lot of really beautiful mustaches at Stone Brewery on October 3rd. I know, I know, your grooming standards are much stricter than most masculine males at other fire departments, it’s not your fault. I get it. But, I don’t want you to feel small, incompetent, of less testosteroned value. Escondido, and all our neighboring departments will have glorious mustaches that reach one maybe even two inches beyond and below their lip line. I have thought about trimming up my mustache to keep the insecurity factor to a minimum, but even if I cut off several inches, I still fear it will cast great shadows upon your tiny little mustaches that sit neatly above your lip line. Try not to let it hurt your feelings, we are doing it in support of you! My magnificent mustache is for you CalFire. One day when you retire, you can join the regiment of real men who have real mustaches, but until then, you’ll just have to hang out with them at Stone Brewery, each year.

OK, now that we got that out-of-the-way.

The recipients:

On August 6, 2023, a mid-air collision occurred between two helicopters suppressing a fire in the community of Cabazon.

Assistant Chief Josh Bischof and Fire Captain Tim Rodriguez both perished.


Chief Josh Bischof was born in N. Hollywood. His parents moved their family to Idyllwild when he was 5, to a 10-acre lot in the wild. Cheryl, his wife, also moved to Idyllwild when she was 5. They found each other 10 years later and married 4 years after that. They have 2 children, Juliana-8, and Derek-12.


Josh started his career as a volunteer, shortly after, joined the Hot Shots, and jumped on with CalFire in 1999. He cut his teeth in “The Old 16th” and was a part of the substantial leadership that came out of Indio in that time period. When everyone wants to be at work AND take pride in their craft, great things happen. He had the pleasure of working with Sara Thomas, God rest her soul, Stachetober’s 2016 recipient.

Josh had his eye on aviation, he loved it. Those that raised him up, knew he’d thrive there. He spent several years paying his dues in order to captain an aircraft…and he was great at it. He eventually made his way to Tao AirForce Base and was slated to become chief of South Ops. He was in the process of training Tim Rodriguez, his dear friend, the day they were both killed.

Speaking of Tim, Tim Rodriguez was raised in Hemet. He became a volunteer FF after high school. He rolled into a full-time position with CalFire in 2002…it was a good year. He met his wife Dorothy that year and they married the following. His career took him all around the CalFire desert. Dorothy described how much Tim really cared about his folks. Often, he fathered a young firefighter “that needed a little work.” That’s what he’d tell Dorothy, “They’re not broken, they just need someone to teach them and guide them.” He never gave up on people. A common phrase: “If it wasn’t for Tim, I couldn’t be in this career.”

When he died and Dorothy was talking with all his acquaintances at the services, she was surprised at how many people said, “Tim was my best friend.” That was his affect on people. He paid attention, they experienced authentic friendship…the best of it.

Like Bischof, Captain Rodriguez had his eye on aviation. His career was catered around it. He loved to fly.

The skies are emptier without them both.

I had a pleasure of talking to Cheryl Bischof, and Dorothy Rodriguez, strong women… It seems that’s the case with fire wives. Regardless of how we start off, we all become much stronger in this vocation. All you seasoned fire spouses are nodding your heads right now.

I remember when I was first married and we were living in a tiny 1,250 square-foot house with five children in Valley Center. My wife would call me whenever she heard a peep in the darkness. I would encourage her as much as I could from the station. At the worst of times, my cousin would cruise over and sleep on the couch. But regardless, she still felt vulnerable being alone. But after time, she became forged in her loneliness and solidarity and evolved into a much different woman. The following conversation exemplifies this metamorphosis:

“Hey…” she says, foot crunching sound in the background.

“What’s up girl?” I ask.

“I think I heard two guys talking in our backyard.” Our house was sandwiched between a huge horse ranch and Lilac Rd. Every once in a while, we’d get a few cut-throughs, some shadier than others.

“Okaayyy…are you good? Is the door locked? Can you see ‘em?” I asked.

“I’m outside with the flashlight right now and I don’t see any sign of them, I think I scared ‘em off.” She responds with focus.

The flashlight is what we affectionately call our 12-gauge Mossberg tactical shotgun (rack, buckshot-buckshot, slug-slug-slug), which happens to have a blinding flashlight on it. She was scoping the property, ready to take care of the problem and probably bury it in our garden underneath the beets.

This job makes us strong, and it makes our spouses even stronger.
Cheryl and Dorothy are a testament to this. There is a time-tested strength that comes with being married to this job…and each of our spouses are. This creates a dichotomy of separation and resilience. Both Cheryl and Dorothy exemplified this in our conversation. I’ve seen this same amazing resilience in Amy Douglas, Ashly Iverson, Mariah Byler, Caily Valenta, and many others.

These are some STRONG women. See the eyes? Sad but not even close to ever giving up! There’s a floating baby inside her, depending on her strength (Amy Douglas, 2013 Recipient). Suffering builds resilience. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish butterfingers and pool floaties built resilience, but they don’t. Hardship and self-denial do. There is a fair share of building opportunities in this job, and therefore the same share of resilience. It ain’t free.

You’ll see it in the eyes of Cheryl and Dorothy on the 3rd.

In addition to resilience, this job also forges a type of community that is rare. Since the death of Josh and Tim, their families have been surrounded by many uncles. These uncles are not of their bloodline, they are the folks that have been grafted into their lives through this job, with a faithfulness that I don’t see in other vocations. It’s really beautiful!

You are that community.

I saw Tim at Stachetober each year. He is the one who actually nominated Sara Thomas. Dorothy recalled the irony “It hurt my heart each year, hearing the stories of the recipients, and now I’m one of them.”

This is the shitty part of the recipient post. Ready? I want you to switch places with Dorothy and Cheryl. I want you to imagine, having to toast yourself at the Fest. Suck!!! I hope you never do. But this is a fundraiser folks and our rally point isn’t a pretty one…

Please consider supporting Cheryl Bischof and Dorothy Rodriguez as they lead their families on an endless deployment. Come to the event. Buy a dinner, some shirts, raffle tickets, bid on auction items, drink a lot of beer, and donate some cash…and do it now, why it’s fresh.

StachetoberFest – Changing the Face of Charity

Thanks folks,


Ps. Speaking of amazing generosity, a cancer fund has been set up in honor of a retired Escondido fire captain: Joe Howard. Joe died of Cancer, way too soon. This guy was amazing, he was one of “those guys,” mentioned in the opening paragraph. The Joe Howard Foundation Fund is not a part of StachetoberFest, but has partnered up with us. This year they will be buying dinner and apparel for all the recipients and their families.

They do good work. Highlights from this year:

-They’re donating $9,000 to the victims of the Maui Fire

-And $14,000 to Brent Nogle to cover his cancer treatments. Brent’s been fighting Colon CA for almost 3 years, and he’s winning. Him and his family will be joining us at the Fest.




Let’s start with a children’s fablepopular in most cultures:

Once upon a time there was a firefighter without a mustache. He was a sad firefighter. He struggled with his ladders, his hose pulls were slow, his ax was smaller than the rest of the boys. All the other fire fighters looked down upon him and secretly disdained his naked face…and they were right to do so. He did not possess the same skill, strength, or sex appeal of his hairier compadres. Over his career, the earth degraded, and it was clear the end of the world was near. Right before its implosion A.I. bots were sent to his location to chemically test and remove the most genetically fit humans of the region. All the mustache bearing men were loaded onto spaceships in order to fruitfully repopulate the new world. And he sat, alone, on the ambulance, mustache-less, wishing he had made better decisions prior to the big day.

Moral of the story. Grow a mustache before the end of the world or you’ll find yourself alone on the box.

Big Day: October 3rd, 5pm-close, Stone Brewery 1999 Citricado Pkwy, Escondido, CA 92029. Be there! Your mom will…well my mom will. She loves me. View the website for details. StachetoberFest – Changing the Face of Charity 

You can also pre-purchase dinner (one time through buffet), apparel and make donations. Shirts purchased online can be claimed at the fest. If you choose to ship it, we will ship ALL items the week of Oct 3rd. 

We will be supporting CalFire’s Tim Rodriguez and Josh Bischof this year. 2 great families at a terrible loss. I will release more details concerning the recipients in the next email. Thank you for your generosity in advance, none of us wanna go out early, but we can count on each other to care for our families if we do.

Go to the site, buy your tickets (first 500 get a pint glass), a few shirts, and din din if you want it. Grow your stache and support your brothers, may they rest in peace. Donate – StachetoberFest 

Ok, that’s it on the event details, the rest concerns the heart, dive deep if you like…

My wife and I recently took a stroll with our 50 children and their friends to La Jolla Shores in our breeder van (anything above a 7 passenger qualifies as a breeder van- a shout out to the Mormons and the Catholics). As we hit cruising altitude, I noticed that the 15 freeway was bumpier than I remembered. “Hmmm, that’s weird. What is the likelihood the Keebler Elves installed tiny little speed bumps across the 20 miles of freeway between Escondido and the La Jolla?” Not likely. I let go of the wheel to check the alignment. I have 2 driving teens now and it’s not uncommon to find a sidewall painted red…or green…or white. Nope. Alignments good. Tires looked good before we left. I just chalked it up to 150,000 miles on an old van.

Over the next few days, the elves installed bigger speed bumps all over the county, including the small roads in Valley Center. “Man these guys are busy!” So I pull over again, check the tires and there it is, back right tire had a growing cyst. It is not an old tire, there was plenty of tread. This thing was now bald on a quarter of the tire. I found it fascinating how this tiny weakness in one square inch of the tire, dismantled and trashed the entirety in a matter of miles. I guess that’s how it works. A fortress ain’t much, if it’s got a weak spot in the wall or a traitor who opens the door. The heart doesn’t last long if one of it’s arteries gets blocked… and we’re no different.

A neglected spouse leads to an affair. An over parented child leads to rebellion or addiction. Too much control leads to anxiety. One little piece of the puzzle can topple the fortress or lead to an unnatural ride. When I was 16, I drove a fruit truck weekly to Los Angeles. The truck was exhibiting the same Keebler-speed-bump condition and ended up blowing a right front tire with a full load. The shredding of the tire took me 2 lanes right onto a deep shoulder, annihilated the fender, all without my consent or ability to effect a change.

Again, we’re no different. Well actually, that’s not true, we’re quite different, in comparison to the lot of humans. Our shit-tank overflows easier.

The black water tank that holds life’s excrement is as full as everyone else when we get into this job, but we fill it more and quick. More trauma, more custom problems than the 9-5er. You ever noticed how you remember all the calls of your first few years and then eventually you can’t even remember your last shift= trauma. Your brain is triaging, “nope! We’re all full up, throw those memories away.”

The tank is meant to be regularly serviced. I know we’ve talked about this before but stay with me. This information is important, like stretching before you lift heavy…AND you’re over 40. It’s not applicable until it is.

At this year’s marriage conference (the conference we held in Feb ‘23 for first responders), I talked with Dr. Mynda Ohs (keynote speaker) for about 5 mins between sessions and was confessing a few abnormal symptoms I was experiencing (erratic body and emotional responses without my consent). She dismantled me like a ninja with a series of rapid-fire questions that left me uncomfortable and unstable, “am I about to cry? Shit, I think I’m gonna cry!” I could picture all my little elves behind my eyeballs scrambling to plug and dike my tear ducts before they let loose in front of my peers.

“What was that about?!” I thought.

At the end of our conversation, Mynda, knowing that time didn’t permit a longer conversation, gave me a concluding sentence: “Listen dom, you’re f&%@d up. Most of us are,” waving to the room of first responders. “95% of my clients are retired. When the last bell rings, they drop their guard, start to sleep, and encounter 30 years of demons they’ve shoved into Pandora’s box. You can start to drain the tank now or you can wait like everyone else to be force fed when you’re retired.” And then she went back to the front to give the next session.

“Well that sucks!”

So where do we go with that, and how is it applicable?




Feelings are the bridge between your perception and reality.

All of our decisions stem from this garden. Feelings do the sowing and then maturity, experience, and wisdom decide what grows to fruition and what is pulled and burned.


Most of us get into this job in our youth, when feelings are the sole decision driver. Just think back to your 20-year-old decisions. “Getting blackout drunk in Vegas and spending $5,000 in one weekend sounds like a great idea!”

That feeling-driver is intended by design. It’s what makes us risk, push our physical limitations, mental limitations, it builds our confidence and shows us that we can do more than we thought. And that is all good, it’s very important.

But, feelings are tricky in this job. Although we may have used feelings to make all our decisions, they stop aiding us quickly…here. Every new proby learns that feelings do not help them in their performance. Sadness on a pediatric trauma impedes recollection of protocols and efficient airway management. Severely damaged ego leads to inability to learn and overcome old behaviors. Fear prohibits movement. So what’s the alternative? Duh! Bury that shit till you’re done with the call…or the shift…or, as Mynda implied, your career. How’s that going?

These behaviors make us stand out. They make us attractive to our mates, “This guy’s, calm, collect, responsible, makes sound decisions, isn’t afraid to try…” Over the years that can change to, “this guy’s emotionless, detached, hates people, etc.”



“Shitter’s full!” And that’s what get’s everyone’s attention. You find yourself, in a woman’s bathrobe, in your front yard, emptying your black tank into a storm drain (If you haven’t seen National Lampoons Christmas Vacation—shame on you!) Our coping mechanisms are capped. We’re still capable, but we get hollowed out.

“Well that’s great Polito, once again you’ve illuminated how F’d up I am. Have a good day, I’ll talk to you later.”

No. You’re not. You are working just as you are designed. The overflow (Uncle Eddie), is your que. You didn’t do anything wrong, you’re not broken, your heart is giving you a friendly reminder that it’s time to drain the tank.

What’s that mean? There’s practical’s: counseling, marriage counseling, peer support, self-care, exercise, less cover-ups (damaging behaviors in search of feeling good). But the real work comes in the understanding. Understanding permits consent, consent (and suffering) gives way to change. And that brings us back to feelings.

“I feel, therefore I am,” is our current culture’s mantra. Apply that to a toddler or a teenager and it’s easy to see that it’s not fruitful. No different for us. We have our feelings AND our cognitive, experience, and wisdom-based self. This second part is growing, it’s called maturity. We all do it at different ages. Maturity is the point when our feelings become an accessory to our understanding, not the driver. I wish someone would have told me this. Your feelings are your intel to your beliefs. They’re like a barometer. “Oh man! It’s gonna be 105 on Wednesday!!! Hydrate or die!”

An integrated, mature human does the following:

Has an experience.

Feelings relay our body’s physical response to the experience.

Our wise self integrates the two and comes up with a battle plan.

Example: I’m tired from running on bums all night, I’m gonna have an extra cup of coffee with my bride when I get home, take the kids to school, and take a nap.

The problem is when we revert back to our 20’s: “I feel therefore I am.” We come home and ask our feelings to tell us who we are…right now. If this were our reality: Our love of spouse, children, and self, would hinge on the kind of night we had. We can’t afford these kind of perceptions.

If only there was a way we could train ourselves to make good decisions based on fruits and desired outcomes instead of feelings. “Oh wait! That’s the fire service! I’ve been doing that for 2, 5, 10, 20 years! Jackpot!” We have programmed our bodies to put feelings aside and make very difficult decisions quickly. We must apply that same training to the rest of our life. It’s fruit based.

If someone has a low O2 SAT, you put ‘em on a cannula, then a NRB. If they don’t respond- CPAP. If that works-then it works= fruit based. Inch and ¾ line puts the fire out? Done! If not= 2 ½…deck gun. Fruits!

We must apply the same to our relationships. If you come home tired and don’t feel like doing anything…and don’t, except maybe have a few beers in the evening and tweak out on something that apparently feels more important than your relationships, then you’ll go back to work feeling like a shitty spouse and parent (cause you were). If you continue down that same feeling-based track, add ‘em all together and you start to wonder why your life sucks.

OR, you come home tired, have coffee with the wife, play with the kids, and go out on a date, your wife jumps your bones…good fruits. You’re choosing out of love, not feelings. As you invest in these things, your feelings hitch the trailer to those that matter most, and you experience the fruits that were just beyond your choice…just beyond, so close.

Folks, our feelings are liars. But they ARE intel! We must put on our big boy(girl) pants and make decisions based on what is important, USING our feelings to inform us where we are—“I’m tired, my decisions are gonna cost me today…and that’s ok.” If we go with our feelings only, we’ll end up in Vegas spending our emergency fund with the guys for a weekend that didn’t drain the tank.

In a way, we must choose first, and feel second. Yes, it’s backwards, it is counter intuitive. It feels terrible, initially. But it is who we are in this job, and how we operate because of it. Accept it and learn it. The “feelings-balance” will follow. All humans go through this, we just do it earlier and faster. We must accept. You can only paddle up stream for so long before you burn out…but everyone loves a good float trip-downstream, in the direction of life, your life.

Folks, just as an amputee doesn’t count on their legs growing back, we should not count on our feelings driving our decisions. Choose first! The good stuff is just beyond.

Keep up the good fight. See you at the Fest. Support the Rodriquez and Bischofs, they need us. Donate – StachetoberFest



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