The way Rob Nowaczyk recalls it, the idea came to him in a spark.
It was during the Glendale wildfire of 2000 as he and fellow L.A. County Firefighter Ed Walker sat atop a scorched hill. They'd been working for three hours straight, were utterly exhausted and so thirsty that they'd started chewing straw.
Naturally, the two men's thoughts turned to cold beer.
"That's when we came up with our slogan," recalled Nowaczyk, 38, of Calabasas. "Extinguish your thirst, ignite the party."
The outcome was Fireman's Brew Inc., a modest company with fiery ambitions. The goal: make its Original Firemans Brew brand a household name and, in the process, raise at least $1 million for charity by donating 5 percent of the company's profit. The money goes to support the National Fallen Firefighters Association, which assists the families of dead firefighters.
The Woodland Hills company, which got its start with beer brewed in Nowaczyk's garage, has a ways to go. Last year it only grossed about $80,000 in the highly competitive craft beer segment. But Fireman's Brew is making progress.
The company's two beers blonde and "brewnette" and its redhead ale are available at Bristol Farms, Gelson's Markets and liquor stores. Talks are on with other grocery chains, and the company is approaching bars.
"We see 2009 as our kickoff year," said David Johnson, chief executive of the company, which suspended business for several years after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"We didn't want to make a profit off that," said Nowaczyk, who still works as a firefighter/paramedic and helped clean up the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
The company, which restarted without Walker, who took a buyout in stock, now also sells premium coffee, but Nowaczyk is a beer man to his core.
"I'm an absolute beer lover. All I drink is my own beer," he said.
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