Honoring Fallen Firefighters: Sirens Java & Tea
“Firefighters, EMTs and law enforcement always answer the call of the sirens,” explains Yolanda Regalado, owner of Sirens Java & Tea coffeehouse. “So we thought what a great name for our space.” That space, in the historic arts district of San Pedro, California, once housed the “News-Pilot,” a daily paper that helped tie the community together. Today, Sirens Java & Tea does the same, but with soothing drinks, a kind word, and a lot of heart. Thanks to Yolanda’s commitment to fallen firefighters and others who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe, that heart is reaching out to our charity in a new and unique way.
“I wanted to show my love and appreciation for those who sacrifice so much for us, so my sister-in-law put me in touch with the charity,” says Yolanda, whose brother Benjamin Pinel was an LAFD firefighter who died in the line of duty. The charity provided an empty brass fire extinguisher for collecting donations. As a visual reminder and dynamic container for contributions, the extinguisher will hang alongside a plaque explaining why the shop is devoted to Widows & Orphans. “It’s not just about coffee. It’s about community. The community is important to me and everyone here,” she says.
Yolanda is more than familiar with how the charity uplifts in times of need. With one brother currently serving as a Fire Inspector 2, another brother retired as a former LAFD engineer, and a beloved brother who lost his life in the line of duty, Yolanda has seen firsthand how the charity has helped their fire family. “My niece was 3 months old when Ben died. She’s now a teacher at an elementary school,” Yolanda continues. “If it wasn’t for what the charity did for her mom over time…They had a lot to do with her being able to hold on over the years and give back in her own way.”
Although her connection to the LAFD is indelible, Yolanda wanted to do more than simply praise their efforts. That’s why the now retired L.A. County Deputy Sheriff threw a lot of her heart and soul and retirement benefits into creating Sirens Java & Tea. And, she makes sure the shop pays tribute to the fallen from multiple agencies, such as the LAPD, military and some of her own colleagues from the Sheriff’s Department. “It’s a labor of love. I wanted a place where people feel safe and no one felt unwelcome,” says Yolanda. She even managed to gather a group of women in the neighborhood to come out and create a memorial wall for the city’s heroes–among those joining her was former LAFD firefighter and resident artist, Julie Bender.
“Meeting Julie was truly serendipitous. She approached me after she heard I had plans to create a memorial wall in the java house. But when I learned that she knew my brother, Ben, and was even working there the night he died in the Proud Bird restaurant fire, it was like I could feel something bigger happening,” shares Yolanda.
Together, the two women and a host of volunteers painted a sacred space so whenever the surviving spouses visit Sirens, they can connect and feel as if they’re a part of something bigger as well. Julie shows and sells her art out of a dedicated space in the coffeehouse, as Yolanda welcomes people from all walks of life to answer the call of the siren. “We get everyone here. Nurses, doctors, attorneys, students from Marymount College, you name it,” explains Yolanda. “All of them compliment the memorial wall, exchange stories and remember the sacrifices our first responders make. It’s different from any space you’ve ever seen, and at the same time, it’s a space for everyone.”
— Candace Nicholson