When the Mill Valley Volunteer Firefighters Association launched its some 15 years ago, its organizers weren’t entirely sure what to expect.
John Thompson, Fred Martin, John McClure and Bob Hughes, among others, cobbled together a bunch of portable grills, coolers and propane tanks and prepared to serve up a Memorial Day breakfast for about 500 people.
And then 800 showed up.
That trend has held up nearly every year, with volunteers serving up 1,500 to 2,000 plates each and lines forming around the block outside the on Corte Madera Avenue. Martin estimated that 3,500 pancakes were doled out last year,
That’s expected to continue this year as the Pancake Breakfast takes place from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on traffic-free Corte Madera Ave. in front of City Hall and outside the fire station with pancakes, eggs, juice and coffee.
The breakfast kicks off a blockbuster day of Memorial Day activities. , whose theme this year is “Our Kids, Our Schools, Our Future,” kicks off at 10:30 a.m. at , winding its way through downtown and down Miller Ave. before ending at Tam High. (Click here for info about applying for a float in the parade and additional details.)
When the float riders, school bands, dignitaries and a bevy of youth groups head to the after the parade, they’ll have a slew of activities to navigate.
That includes a on the fields of the Community Center from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tommy Castro & the Painkillers, Danny Click & the Hell Yeahs, The 85's, local teen phenom and the Mill Valley Middle School Jazz Band are all set to perform at the concert. That event, being organized by the owners of the , will also feature beer and wine from other local vendors.
As the Pancake Breakfast has continued to grow over the years, one aspect of it has gone largely unnoticed: the event’s organizers have created quite a mobile kitchen setup that would come in handy in the event of a catastrophic event like a massive wildfire or earthquake, says Mill Valley Volunteer Firefighter Ron Vidal.
“We feed nearly 15 percent of Mill Valley’s population in four hours on that day,” Vidal says of the Pancake Breakfast. “We’re building resiliency and the ability to do a mass feeding if we’re ever in that situation.”
In addition to showcasing an impressive mobile kitchen, the Pancake Breakfast is also the biggest fundraiser of the year for Mill Valley’s volunteer firefighter program. The Mill Valley Fire Department took shape more than 120 years ago as an all-volunteer organization, beating out some fires with wet potato sacks and renting space to store its gear.
But while the department has come a long way since those days, its leadership, starting with one-time volunteer and and continuing with , has made bolstering the volunteer program a priority.
“You keep the department strong by continuing to develop that volunteer pool,” Vidal says. “The program creates a candidate pool for the hiring needs for Mill Valley and departments all over Marin and the Bay Area.”
Vidal points to firefighter , a Tam High grad who was a volunteer for Mill Valley Fire after high school, enlisted in the U.S. Marines and served a tour in Iraq, returned home and rejoined the volunteer program. He was hired last year as a trainee and is now a firefighter with the department.
“It’s a great story,” Vidal says.
Volunteer program officials estimate that it costs about $4,000 to properly train and equip an active duty firefighter and the group hopes to raise between $10,000 and $15,000 at this year’s event.
The 411: The annual Mill Valley Volunteer Firefighters Association’s Pancake Breakfast takes place from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on traffic-free Corte Madera Ave. in front of City Hall and outside the fire station with pancakes, eggs, juice and coffee. Fees are $7 for adults and $5 for kids with all proceeds to benefit the Mill Valley Volunteer Firefighters Association to equip a new batch of volunteer recruits.