(Watsonville Fire Chief Pablo Barreto inspects a flock of plastic flamingos in front of Fire Station No. 2 Wednesday after the station was "flocked." Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — For a man as accustomed to unusual calls as Watsonville’s Fire Chief, Pablo Barreto started his day on Wednesday with an unusual one.
“Rosa texted me this morning and said, ‘we’ve been flocked,’” he said, referring to Watsonville Fire Department Administrative Analyst Rosa Meyer.
The call was a way to tell Barreto about a “flock” of small pink plastic flamingos that had appeared in the small front lawn of Station 2 on Airport Boulevard.
In truth, the birds were not a surprise to Barreto. They came thanks to his friend Rick Flores, who is using “flocking” as an unconventional way to garner funds for his participation in an upcoming charitable bicycle ride.
Those who are flocked can choose to donate and can tell the organizer who will get the next visit.
“I was trying to do it in a fun way, and I hate asking people for money,” Flores said. “I just decided I would do something fun this year.”
After purchasing several small plastic flamingos at a dollar store and printing an informational sign, Flores was ready to go.
The Fire Service Cancer Awareness Bicycle Ride is sponsored by National Fire Velo Cycling Club, which is made up largely of firefighters.
According to Watsonville Fire Capt. Rick Pettigrew, firefighters’ repeated exposure to hazardous substances on the job makes them 10 percent more likely to get cancer.
This can come from breathing the diesel exhaust from fire trucks and inhaling toxic smoke from house fires.
Firefighters are also thought to be at risk for developing thyroid cancer from wearing their soot-covered respirator around their necks after the fires.
The weeklong, 500-mile journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles begins on Aug. 18. To participate, riders must each raise at least $1,800, Flores said.
He has so far raised $450.
The money goes to support firefighters with cancer and raise awareness about the high rates of cancer that affect the profession.
The ride passes through Watsonville, where about 50 participants are treated to a barbecue dinner.
“It’s a great cause,” Flores said. “All the firefighters do so much for us. I would love to raise as much money as I can for them. It’s a great way to give back.”
For information on Flores’ fundraising efforts, visit bit.ly/2me83Lc.