How does a person know they want to be a firefighter when they grow up? Some say they know at an early age. For others, fate is believed to play a role in their calling. Firefighter Paul Wingate feels it was the latter for him that led to his current position as the Foreman for Crew 3 – the Los Angeles Fire Department’s (LAFD) Volunteer Type II Handcrew.
“This is hands down the best job on the fire department,” Wingate said. “It had to have been destiny that I was given the chance to be in this role with Crew 3. I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Wingate grew up in Fire Station (FS) 66’s district of Southwest LA / Hyde Park. After moving to Santa Clarita with his family when he was 17-years-old, he heard about the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s cadet program and quickly realized being a firefighter was what he wanted to do for a career. On one particular ride-along Wingate responded to a motorhome fire that spread to nearby brush. While assisting his crew, he spotted a green fire engine arrive nearby whose crew began working to contain the fire in the brush. Inquiring who the firefighters in the green engine were, he learned about the U.S. Forest Service’s wildland firefighters.
From that day forward wildland firefighting was engrained in Wingate’s mind. He joined the U.S. Forest Service’s apprentice wildland firefighter program in 1993 and soon after became a hotshot. Starting his career in the Los Padres National Forest’s Monterrey District, he went on to work as a permanent member for the Angeles National Forest from 1994-1999. It was during his time with the Angeles National Forest that Wingate applied to join the LAFD.
“I made a commitment to myself that I was going to pass the LAFD’s entrance exam no matter how long it took,” Wingate said. “I wanted to pass it just to prove to myself that I could, and I did just that.”
Conditionally accepted to the department in 1999,Wingate continued to battle fires across the country with his Forest Service crew. As different steps in the hiring process required him to be present, Wingate attributes fate as the reason he always made it back to complete the next step. In 2000 he proudly put on an LAFD uniform and served at four different stations before completing eight years at FS 94, located in the Crenshaw area.
Besides his regular duties at FS 94 Wingate also served as the advisor for the cadet post located at the station. After discovering how much he enjoyed training young men and women interested in fire service, his wildland firefighting roots lead him to become an instructor for Crew 3. Members of Crew 3 receive wildland classes and hands-on training to support LAFD operations in the areas of: fire prevention (clearing firebreaks, trails and fire roads), assisting with fire suppression at brushfire incidents, and other activities. As Wingate enjoyed his time working with Crew 3 more and more, fate played its final role in Wingate’s story. In 2014 he accepted the role as Crew 3’s Foreman and has since lead the Crew in wildland training and in support of LAFD operations throughout the city.Members of Crew 3 are seen in action working to clear brush and other foliage during the Griffith Park Fire on July 10, 2018. Photo by: Rick McClure.
“I let everyone know at the start that I run this crew like a Type II Handcrew, who are paid,” Wingate said. “When the command staff at a fire see us arrive and they say, ‘There’s Crew 3, they’re here to work,’ that’s when it all pays off.”
Wingate has been with the LAFD for a total of 18 years, including serving as Crew 3’s Foreman for the past four years. He has lead the Crew at notable brush fires like last year’s La Tuna and Creek Fires, and most recently the Griffith Park Fire that sparked on July 10, 2018. When not leading Crew 3 at incidents, training or other activities, he enjoys spending time with his wife, 14-year-old daughter, and 11-year-old son. His main hobby is enjoying his children’s hobbies with them.