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Friday, August 30, 2013

LAFD 76

How often do you eat dinner at the fire station by invitation of the Captain? Maybe you do so on a regular basis, but this was new for me and John. (I have no idea what he was doing back there. You'll just have to ask him.)

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.



30 comments:

Book Dragon said...

*sniffle*

John Sandel said...

In the 1st photo, I was tripping over a molecule. They were everywhere!

Kat Ward said...

Great piece and pics, Petrea. I didn't know they had to pay for their own food!

After my mother went into cardiac arrest and the firefighters, EMTs and ER crew fought for hours to save her, my sisters and I baked up a storm and made goodie bags with baked goods, sodas, power bars, etc., then tracked down all involved and dropped them off. The fire captain was so grateful to hear from us because he'd assumed because my mom was in such bad shape that she hadn't made it and my dad had looked so heartbroken that it had weighed upon him. And because of privacy laws now, they can't follow up and find out how people fared. So, thank you, thank you to all the firefighters, EMTs and ER crews who works so very, very hard.

Petrea Burchard said...

Same where you are, too, BD, right? Right.

No kidding, JS, I even ate some.

I was surprised to hear about all the things they pay for, Kat. A lot! Down to the chairs in the lounge. I love your story about baking for your mom's saviors. They could do other jobs. They do this because they care to help. So thanking them is a good thing to do.

Ms M said...

Great story and pics to get the word out about these heroes! Kudos to all firefighters and paramedics!

Bellis said...

I love "but we didn't touch much." Only mollicules?

A few years ago, I was shown around a new Fire Station next to the Caltech campus. They had 12 Lazyboys lined up in front of a giant TV screen, and not a single book. But now you've explained that the guys have to buy everything themselves, I understand.

Petrea Burchard said...

Bellis, the firefighters probably bought the TV and the Lazyboys, just as Max's crew did.

Think about it. They do 24-hour shifts and they probably come back from each call packed with adrenaline. Max says on your days off, all you do is sleep.

I didn't notice books around Station 76, but there were definitely laptops.

Dina said...

Such a moving story of these men, Petrea. I'm so glad you were invited. Lucky you. Since early childhood I dream to be so lucky.

Shell Sherree said...

I'm gobsmacked that they have to buy their own food to cook. I'm going to see what I can find out about our firefighters here. And I'm thinking seriously of having some molecules for dinner tonight ...

Linda said...

What an amazing range of situations they have to deal with. I don't think our fire crews do so much of the medical stuff, although they are trained.
In amongst the main theme of heroic, selfless service, I was interested in a tiny linguistic point - we also call it a 'fire station' in the UK, but in Canada it's a 'fire hall'. I wonder why?

Jean Spitzer said...

You have maximized your chances of being correct, by calling him Bob.

Fascinating.

Petrea Burchard said...

Dina, I'll bet if you walk to your local fire station and ask one fireman one question, soon you'll be in conversation with everyone there. This is not the first time I've been invited into a fire station. They love it when citizens express interest in their work.

Let us know, Shell. I guess we all have to buy our own molecules.

Linda, they can be trained as either a firefighter (FF), a paramedic (PM) or both. We will often see a fire truck and an ambulance on a call where there's no fire. This may explain it: this small station had one of each, and whatever gets you to where you need to be is the vehicle you take.

As for your language question, I don't know. But I love that English is spoken so differently in so many places.

Jean, it might have been easier if they'd all been Bob. But then I wouldn't have had those nice conversations with William and Rob.

Petrea Burchard said...

Kind of on the subject:

Four years ago I posted about a prison inmate fire crew that impressed me.

http://pasadenadailyphoto.blogspot.com/2009/09/aztec-fire-crew-63.html

Since then, I watched another inmate crew release me and my neighbors when we (our cars) were trapped on our block after the windstorm of 2011.

Here's an article in today's TIME about the value of California's inmate fire crews.
http://ti.me/1crT2Jh

Desiree said...

Great fun!

Bellis said...

I honestly didn't know that firemen have to buy their recliners, TVs, DVDs and food themselves and I'm so glad you told us. I'll now thank them copiously when they do BBQs and pancake breakfasts for the public at local events. Every fireman I've met has been friendly and welcoming, they're such a great bunch of heroes. Did you get a chance to ask one of the Bobs about the famous Cahuenga Pass chickens?

Susan Campisi said...

What a treat to be the guests of honor of these kind and compassionate heroes. The few firemen I've met have all been dog lovers, another testament to their impeccable character. Next time I meet a fireman, I'll be sure to express my gratitude.

Petrea Burchard said...

Sorry, Bellis, I didn't ask. Apparently those chickens aren't famous enough for me to know about them.

Susan, I imagine dog love is a requirement for getting on the squad.

Arturo Jacinto said...

I commuting to F.S. 11 via bicycle pedaling up hill on Caheunga. It's just before 6:00 A.M. and the year is 1981. In those days 76"s door had to be closed by hand and quick release bike peddels were not in vogue yet. As I was climbing, Engine 76 caught a run and pulled out of quarters and stopped in front of me waiting for the FF to close the apparatus doors. I was firmly strapped into the pedals and had to come to an abrupt stop. I toppled over on to my side while still attached to the bicycle which drew much amusement from 76's crew. Nevertheless I was careful to cover up my LAFD F.S.11 emblems during my hasty decent to the pavement so as not to bring undue embarrassment to 11's.

Petrea Burchard said...

Great story, Arturo. It's a good thing you weren't injured, or they'd have had to save you, and you'd never have been able to cover your emblems.

And that is a long commute!

altadenahiker said...

Even if they do have to buy their own food, everyone wants to be a firefighter. Did you see that last week 2,000 applicants turned out for 10 Pasadena ff jobs.

Petrea Burchard said...

I understand the job pays well, Karin. It should.

LONDONLULU said...

I love that quote about stupidity and texting, ha! What a great glimpse at these brave and hard workers - a terrific tribute to all they do!

Petrea Burchard said...

It's my favorite line, too, Lulu. I guess you have to have a sense of humor to do this work. They see this stuff all day, every day, and so much of it is preventable.

JM said...

Firefighters deserve all the tributes one can give them. August has been a horrible month in Portugal, it seemed the whole country was burning! Five firemen/women have lost their lives and some are seriously injured in hospitals. Absolutely awful!

Petrea Burchard said...

I've heard about the Portugal fires. California has had some very serious (and large fires), too. No loss of life, though, and for that we must be grateful. 16 young men lost their lives fighting fires in Arizona earlier this year.

Sometimes I know these men and women fight to protect property. Protecting lives is important, but I'd be happy to see them let the property go and save their own lives. I would miss my house, but I wouldn't want anyone to die to save it.

Katie said...

What a thrill and an honor to be invited to the firehouse for dinner! Such fun to have a glimpse into the inner sanctum, and hear some stories. Thanks for taking us along!

Petrea Burchard said...

It was cool, Katie. No mysteries, nothing you wouldn't expect. Just very nice to be part of it briefly.

John Evans said...

Makes me want to strike up a conversation with a fire fighter at the station. A delightful piece!

Petrea Burchard said...

Hi John. Do it! In my experience, they're like anyone else and glad when people express genuine interest in their work.

JONES MILLER said...

Fire brigade work is really toff but it is interesting. Travesti