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From the firehouse to the pickleball courts: Fire captain uses pickleball to bond with his crew


By Brynn Grissom

on Jun 21, 2024

Brian Pingree (second from left) stands in line with his colleagues at the Orange County Fire Authority. They smile at the camera while holding Selkirk pickleball paddles.

Like many pickleball enthusiasts, Selkirk Advocate Brian Pingree starts his days on the pickleball court, enjoying friendly Round Robin tournaments with his friends. 

But there’s something unique about Pingree and his crew — they could be called to service at a moment’s notice.

Pingree serves as a fire captain in Orange County, California. For him and his colleagues, pickleball is more than just a game. It’s a way to unwind from the rigors of their demanding jobs. 

Introduced to pickleball in 2010 while working for Santa Ana Fire Department, Pingree has since seen the addition of pickleball courts at dozens of fire stations within the Orange County Fire Authority.

“When I first started playing, the game was just being introduced, so it wasn’t that big or that competitive for us. Most of us would play basketball, ping pong, or lift weights for exercise,” Pingree recalls. “Now it’s hard to find a fire station that doesn’t have some firefighters who play pickleball.” 

Pingree currently works out of OCFA Fire Station 4 on the University of California-Irvine campus. Station 4 has become a hub for some of the department’s pickleball enthusiasts. 

Through Selkirk’s Growth Program, the firefighters have access to a variety of pickleball paddles and equipment. 

“The addition of Selkirk’s equipment to the station got everyone excited about playing the game,” Pingree says. “The level of play has gone up noticeably as well.”  

Now a captain, Pingree first began his public service career in 1998 as a California State Beach lifeguard at Crystal Cove State Park. He then held several other first responder positions, including as an EMT for Doctor’s Ambulance Service, a volunteer firefighter, and a 911 dispatcher.

Throughout that time, he put himself through paramedic school at the Santa Ana College Fire Academy and played water polo for Saddleback College. He was hired by Santa Ana Fire Department in 2004 where he worked as a firefighter paramedic before the agency merged with the Orange County Fire Authority in 2012.  

Now as a captain, Pingree says it’s important for him to find ways to bond with his team — through training, exercise, stress release, and fun — when they’re not on calls, a lesson he learned from his father.   

“My father was a Santa Ana Firefighter for 33 years. He retired shortly before I was hired,” Pingree says. “I will always remember one of the biggest pieces of advice he gave me, which was to try and have fun.” 

Fire Captain Brian Pingree stands on an indoor pickleball court. He smiles at the camera while preparing to serve the pickleball.

Now, one of the ways Pingree and his crew achieve that goal is through pickleball. 

“When we come back from a difficult call, I try talk about what happened while driving back to the station, over a cup of coffee, or a meal to make sure everyone is feeling all right about what we just experienced. The health and safety of my crew is my highest priority,” he says. “Once all the chores, reports, and training are complete, I try to make pickleball one of the exercise options for the crew because it’s so great for team-building. You get to know your people behind the uniform, which can transcend to how your team will operate on calls.” 

In addition to regular weightlifting, pickleball is an excellent way for the team to maintain its cardiovascular health. During an average session — when they’re not busy running an average of 10 calls per 24-hour shift — crew members will burn 300-400 calories. 

“For me personally, the health effects have been huge. I’ve dropped about 20 pounds and my endurance levels are way up,” Pingree says. “The more active we are, the healthier we become, which makes us better suited to provide our service to the community. Pickleball has become an ‘approved’ physical fitness activity for the agency and it’s spreading like wildfire.” 

Pingree’s love for pickleball extends beyond the fire station. He often meets family members for friendly matches, showcasing his tricky backhand serve and a sharp mid-court slice. 

Although his current family matches involve facing off against his sister and brother-in-law or teaching his wife and parents the rules, Pingree eagerly anticipates playing with his young son, Hazen. At just 3 years old, Hazen is already hitting pickleballs in the garage. 

Fire Captain Brian Pingree holds his son Hazen as they stand in a fire station.

“I’m really looking forward to teaching him all the fun things I’ve learned over the years,” Pingree says with a smile. “I see other kids on the courts with their dads. While I won’t push anything on him, it’s clear he enjoys hitting the ball, and I can’t wait to share the game with him.” 

Now a Selkirk Advocate, Pingree says he’s enjoyed learning more about the game and the technology used in different paddle types. He often plays at Laguna Niguel Regional National Park off duty to allow local players to demo the paddles he’s acquired. 

“I enjoy trying to find the right paddle for each individual and hearing about how much they enjoy it,” Pingree says. “The camaraderie and high level of competition at those courts is growing on me. I look forward to watching the sport grow and hope to be a Selkirk Advocate for a long time to come.”

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