Friday, August 30, 2013
Our friend Max Hengst is a Los Angeles Fire Department Captain out of Station 76 in the Cahuenga Pass. These are the urban firefighters, paramedics and firefighter/paramedics. They're usually not up in the hills, fighting brush fires. They're down in the streets, and the situations they face are often equally dangerous.
You might remember Max. He's the author of LAFD FF/PM: Memoirs of an Outside Dog, and he was a guest author here back in 2011. Max's crew is a Greg, a William, a Rob and three Bobs.
It was Max's day to cook. The firefighters take turns. Did you know they pay for their own food? If you see an LA firefighter at the store picking up steaks for the guys, keep in mind that he's not spending your tax money. The station is very spare. Any amenities are paid for by the guys, pitching in for the comforts they want to add.
As soon as we got there, they got a call. A few minutes later another call came, and the rest of the crew headed out. John and I had the station to ourselves for a while, which is probably not okay in the rule book, but we didn't touch much.
Both calls took time. The first one was an accident in the Cahuenga Pass. A drunk driver, heading north on Cahuenga Blvd East, flipped his car onto the freeway. At rush hour. Miraculously, he didn't hit anyone else. He was pretty badly injured, but apparently too drunk to know it.
The other accident happened in the backup of the first one. A young woman was driving. The injuries were less severe. "Probably texting," William said.
Dinner was fantastic. Max made lasagna from scratch, tomato sauce and all. He also made a beautiful salad, and chocolate cake (with frosting) for dessert. It could have been leftovers, and we'd have been happy to be there. But it was a great meal and a super-nice bunch of guys, who answered our questions and shared their stories. We talked about our work and theirs, and about their families.
One of the men, I think it was Bob (but perhaps I'm using Bob as my default now and it was actually Greg?) said usually accidents happen because of either drunkenness or stupidity.
I said, "And now we have texting."
"That goes under stupidity," he said.
The same man told us why he does the job. I had thought it might be the adrenalin. He admitted that was cool, but his favorite was the day a woman came by to thank them for saving her life. She'd been working out at the gym, and she keeled over. She was basically dead by the time the Station 76 paramedics arrived. But they didn't give up on her.
Max agreed that was special. He says they usually don't get citizen feedback unless it's a complaint. Huh. These people save lives every day and they have to pay for their own dinner.
And they are gentlemen. They'd been out working on the freeways in 90 degree weather in coats that weigh at least 70 pounds, and they would not eat until John and I were served. Would not.
So I want to thank them. It's incredibly cool to eat at the fire station in the first place, and to call the Captain my friend. But what's even cooler is that we had such a nice time. And cooler than that: every single one of those firefighters is a hero, every single day.