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April 2018 Firefighter of the Month: Firefighter Joseph “Joe” Scamardo

 

When you ask Firefighter Joe Scamardo what he’s enjoyed the most over the last 30 years of working in the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), he doesn’t hesitate when he replies: “Starting the cadet program here at Fire Station 106, that’s what I’m proud of the most.” As his smile broadens, he goes on to say, “I didn’t do it to be recognized at the time or down the road . . . I did it to help the kids who started out like me, looking for someone to guide them in the right direction.”

Born and raised in Canoga Park, Scamardo’s interest in medicine began while attending Pierce College. Enrolled in the college’s first-ever Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class, perhaps it was fate that the teachers of this class were none other than LAFD paramedics. Beginning his journey in public safety as an EMT and then paramedic for the Pruner Ambulance Company in Thousand Oaks, he started with the LAFD in 1988 and served as a paramedic for seven years before becoming a firefighter.

After serving at stations throughout the department’s jurisdiction, Scamardo was befriended by a pair of local kids at Fire Station (FS) 106 (where he currently assigned) who expressed exuberant interest in the fire service. At that time, Scamardo recalls, having them around his workplace was a struggle without the proper supervisory program in place. Realizing the need for a Cadet program (previously known as Explorer programs) at FS 106, he began to look at other stations’ programs to see which model he might duplicate. Following an extensive amount of research, he eventually decided to base his program’s model, Cadet Post 106, on the department’s drill tower recruit training. Scamardo feels that by using the drill tower as the model for his post’s operations, it in turn helps cadets win “half the battle” should they choose to become firefighters down the road.

The experiences at Cadet Post 106 teach responsibility, teamwork and loyalty, qualities that all workplaces value. Scamardo only asks for one thing in return from his cadets when their time to leave the program has finally come. “Call me when you make it,” he says, “that’s all I want in return from you.”

The LAFD Cadet Program is open for students and young adults between the ages of 14 and 21 and can be repeated at will. The program offers the opportunity to work side-by-side with members of the LAFD to learn the duties and responsibilities of being a firefighter. Members of the LAFD who assist in the program do so voluntarily on their own time.

To learn more about the cadet program, visit: Los Angeles Fire Department Cadet Program

When the LAFD’s Strength Was Tested, the Wildfires Were Bested

ABOVE: LAFD personnel work to douse the flames of a structure fire during the Creek Fire. Photo by Greg Doyle.

 

Recapping an Extraordinary Fire Season:
October 2017 – January 2018

Devastating wildfires from October 2017 to January 2018, followed by unprecedented mudslides in some areas, have left the Golden State with a $1.8 billion dollar bill to pay. That isn’t counting the staggering insurance claims in the wake of the devastation left behind, which are currently estimated to reach $12 million or higher.

Though the hardship of rebuilding continues months after the destruction, it shouldn’t be forgotten what the men and women of the LAFD did for us during this dark time. From sending strike teams to the Tubbs Fire, which now stands as the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history, to the Thomas Fire, the largest wildfire in the state’s history, the LAFD was there to support agencies throughout the state as they worked around the clock to save lives and property.

The fires didn’t stay far, however, and quickly began sparking throughout Southern California. While LAFD crews continued to assist agencies battling the Thomas Fire throughout Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, the Creek, Rye and Skirball wildfires all ignited within a 48-hour window between December 5 and 6, bringing the wave of wildfires to the LAFD’s front door. Ultimately, the LAFD handled four major wildfires at once while continuing to serve the standard 471-square-mile jurisdiction and the 1,300 emergency calls received daily.

As the new year began and the last of these fires was extinguished, it was thought by many that a sense of normalcy would finally begin to return. This was not the case for those in Montecito, however, as massive amounts of rain in mid-January led to a wave of deadly mudslides throughout the area. The LAFD responded to this by sending a total of 85 personnel in the form of: the Urban Search & Rescue Regional Task Force 9 (CA RTF-9), 2 Strike Teams, search dogs, a peer support team, and others.

The LAFD was there, through it all. From assisting communities hundreds of miles away to those just around the corner; the men and women of this phenomenal department carried out their mission to serve those affected in their time of need.

March 2018 Firefighter of the Month: Captain Christopher Winn

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is an all-risk, all-hazard training program for the public. CERT is provided free of charge within the city of Los Angeles to anyone 18 or over. CERT members receive 17 1/2 hours (one day a week for seven weeks) of initial training.

Captain Chris Winn is the current LAFD CERT Commander. He is a native Angeleno and is fully committed to protect the city that he lives in and loves. Recently, at a Board of Fire Commissioners meeting, the LAFD CERT Volunteers were recognized for their countless hours of volunteer work during the 2017 Creek and Skirball brush fires. This wouldn’t have happened without the leadership and coordination of Captain Winn.

Capt. Winn’s first impression of a firefighter was at the age of 9 when a neighbor’s home went up in flames. He couldn’t believe how fast the firetruck showed up and was amazed by the firefighters at work extinguishing the flames. He made his mind up right then and there that he wanted to become a firefighter and help people when he grew up.

After graduating from Santa Monica High School, Capt. Winn enrolled at Cal State Northridge and earned his degree in Political Science and Public Administration. He also enrolled in Fire Science classes at the Santa Barbara Fire Academy and worked as a reserve firefighter for nearly six years in Culver City before being hired by the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) in 2002.

During his mandatory first year probation, he worked at fire station 75 with what he describes as a “great crew.” He remembers that first assignment was a very busy station where they knocked down large fires and were called out to many horrific car accidents, some of which stay with him to this day. “We ran day and night at that station,” recalls Captain Winn. He also was very happy that on his first four days off, his new wife went into labor and he was able to be there for the birth of his first child.

Three years ago, he was promoted to Captain and started looking for a special duty detail when then Chief Little and Capt. John Ignatczyk encouraged him to apply to CERT. A logistics background with FEMA has helped him thrive in the program where he trains, supervises and manages four instructors and the civilians who complete the CERT training. These civilians help free up fire department resources by aiding in fire patrol in their communities especially during high hazard periods like holidays. In fact, the patrolling done by his teams has made a measurable impact in the area of homeless encampment fires. Prior to his patrols in East Los Angeles, there had been seven or eight brush fires in a short period of time that have now been reduced to zero.

Making a difference in people’s lives is what continues to drive Capt. Winn. He remembers with barely controlled emotions the LAFD showing up when both his parents, first one and then the other, had critical health issues. Their compassion and empathy along with the stellar care his parents received make him very proud to be part of the organization he serves.

Captain Winn has been with the department for 15 1/2 years. He continues to do an outstanding job in his community preparedness efforts within the CERT Program, in addition to responding to large-scale emergencies and coordinating CERT Volunteers. During structure fires, brush fires, wires-down incidents, high-heat days, or adverse weather conditions, Capt. Winn deploys CERT Volunteers to provide rehabilitation, hydration, and general support. These deployments are managed by Captain Winn through his partnership with his volunteers and on-call status through Metro Fire Communications.

If you are interested in CERT training, go to:

http://www.cert-la.com to learn more about the program.

 

February 2018 Firefighters of the Month: Ellery Beltran and Matthew Davis

With a passion for helping people, firefighter Ellery Beltran has served with the LAFD for the past 10 years. Born in Inglewood and raised in Long Beach, he became interested in firefighting during a career day event at his high school. He remembers that fire department spokesperson was very compelling and Beltran was hooked. He went on to attend Long Beach City and El Camino colleges taking courses in fire science and paramedic training, becoming a paramedic in 2006 prior to applying to the LAFD. He has served his entire career as a paramedic at Fire Station 1 with fellow firefighter/paramedic Matthew Davis.

Firefighter Matthew Davis hails from Utah and had a slightly different path before joining the LAFD. He was inspired and mentored by his high school football coach, a former firefighter. Following his advice, Davis received his BA in business administration and worked a variety of jobs before joining a reserve unit as a firefighter and EMT in Mesquite, Nevada. After serving one year in Las Vegas, he was hired by the LAFD in 2006 and has worked at FS 1 for the past eight years.

With 85% of the more than 1,400 daily calls to the LAFD being medically related, the manual skills for saving a life are just one aspect of the job. Beltran and Davis constantly exceed the medical requisites. Because of his willingness to go beyond what is necessary, Beltran readily remembers a teenage girl and her mother involved in a car accident due to the mother’s intoxication. By gaining the girl’s trust, Beltran discovered they were homeless; that the 15 year old girl had not been in school for more than a year and that her mother had been sex-trafficking her to survive. With the girl’s approval, Beltran was able to get her into child protective custody once they arrived at the hospital, saving her twice that day. Davis remembers a first run of the day call from six years ago that a baby was having trouble breathing. Just as he arrived, the baby’s heart stopped. He was able to revive the infant on the way to the ER and with excellent and flawless teamwork, the baby survived. He still receives yearly updates of the boy who is thriving.

Together, on January 10, 2018, Davis and Beltran assisted in rescuing a potential suicide victim who was poised to jump from the overpass bridge at Grand Avenue in downtown LA. The LAPD were on the scene and had appeared to reason with the man who had climbed back over the railing of the bridge. Just when he appeared to cooperate, the man bolted and ran back to the railing. Beltran leapt into action and both he and Davis were able to subdue the potential jumper until the LAPD could restraint him on a gurney, a difficult task due to the mind-altering substance abuse the jumper was on. According to both men – “We were just doing our job.”

We salute both firefighters this month for doing their jobs with excellence, commitment and passion, saving lives every day.

 

January 2018 Firefighter of the Month: Captain Timothy Ramirez

When firefighting is the family business, courage and heroism flood the family genes. Witnessing the bravery and honor of his father and uncle, both of whom were firefighters, Captain Timothy Ramirez knew he wanted to become one too as early as his junior year in high school. However, Ramirez worried about passing the physical exam to become a firefighter because of his need to wear glasses. Always a planner, Ramirez first earned two associate degrees, one for business and the other for fire technology, at Santa Ana Junior college before attending Cal State Fullerton, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree. While his backup plan was suitable, his first passion was to fight fires, so he opted for eye surgery, a much riskier proposition at a time before lasers. His surgery was a success and his journey in fire service began as the fifth member of eight firefighters in his immediate family. In 1994, Ramirez served with the Upland Fire Department for one year before being hired by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Reflecting upon his career, Captain Ramirez confides that the dangers of firefighting are worthwhile when compared to the personal satisfaction from making a bona fide impact on people and their communities each and every day. When asked for stories that capture what he believes to be the essence of firefighting, the humble Captain repeatedly doesn’t share a story of personal success or his own heroism, but rather a proud account of his platoon members taking ‘fire licking’ to the face in order to pull a man from a flipped, burning vehicle and resuscitating him back to life. The Captain’s self-effacing nature at his rank proves his character is second to none as a serviceman and, more importantly, as a human being.

What stands out most about Captain Ramirez is his relentless commitment to family. Whether it is following in his father’s footsteps to become a firefighter, his unconditional love for his two young daughters or dedication to his platoon, which he aptly considers his family, Captain Ramirez is undoubtedly devoted to those he loves.  After twenty-three years, he says it is slightly easier to handle the horrific situations he sees on a daily basis, but as a father, Ramirez says calls involving children tend to stay with him for awhile.

Captain Ramirez, who is currently Station Commander of Fire Station 35, B Platoon, was not chosen for Firefighter of the Month because of a singular act of heroism, but rather for his tremendous bravery and steadfast leadership. Characteristics that he has put to action daily in all of his assignments over the last 23 years, which include serving as Captain II at the In-Service Training Section’s Program Development and Delivery Unit and supervisor of his platoon for their twenty-four hour shifts. Prior, he served as a Captain I at the Recruit Training Section’s Drill Tower 40.

Through hardship, doubt and fatherhood, the superlative Captain is the true epitome of a dedicated serviceman.

LAFD To Deploy Drones To Assess Skirball, Creek Fire Damage, Hot Spots

CBS News

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — For the first time, the Los Angeles Fire Department is deploying drones to help out in the battle against two wildfires threatening homes in the city.

LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said the drones would be used “for the first time ever,” primarily to conduct property assessment in Creek and Skirball burn areas.

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Firefighter Bryce Gutierrez

Bryce Gutierrez

On January 16, 2017, Task Force 33 responded to a structure fire at a bungalow in South Central Los Angeles. Though TF33 had received no initial reports of people trapped in the house, Firefighter Bryce Gutierrez, while conducting forcible entry onto the property, heard screams coming from inside. At that moment, the captain in charge confirmed that four children, ages two, three, five, and seven, were still in the house.

Locked security gates blocked the front entrance, so Gutierrez circled the property and found a rear-bedroom window—the only point of entry not yet consumed by flames.

Quickly he hoisted himself through the window into complete darkness, with thick smoke and zero visibility. Hearing muffled noises in the distance, he called out, but received no response. He then dropped to the ground and, crawling on all fours, began to search for the children.

Amidst the smoke and flames, he found each child, one at a time. Each one had gone unconscious, and as he came across each limp figure, Gutierrez, not knowing whether they were dead or alive, carried them quickly back to the window, passing each body to a waiting firefighter on the other side. He completed these motions until all four children were rescued.

The four children are alive today because of the courageous actions taken by Firefighter Gutierrez. His exceptional service earned him one of the LAFD’s highest honors, the Medal of Merit.

Firefighter/Paramedic David Danielson

Danielson

            In 2010, Firefighter/ Paramedic David Danielson, pictured second from the left, nominated the LAFD for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve. In 2013, Danielson escorted LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas, pictured on the far right, to the pentagon to meet then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and accept the award.

 

On the night of Sunday, October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock opened fire onto a crowd of thousands from his 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas. As chaos commenced and terrified concertgoers fled the scene, first responders ran in the opposite direction, into the heart of the danger.

In instances of disaster, whether natural or man-made, there is one group of people on which we can always rely. During fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and now active shootings, our community can rest assured that help is on the way.

In the City of Los Angeles, our comfort lies in the certainty that the Los Angeles Fire Department is preparing for every catastrophe. In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed the LAFD skillfully manage historic fires at home and record-breaking hurricanes abroad. What many may not know is that the LAFD is also training for active shooter incidents, through the Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS) unit.

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Firefighter/Paramedic Jennifer Wilcox

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Given her passion for the Los Angeles Fire Department, one would think Firefighter/Paramedic Jennifer Wilcox always wanted a career in the fire service. A thirteen-year veteran of the LAFD, Jen is one of the department’s greatest ambassadors. She has been involved with recruitment since joining the job – hosting training seminars, working recruitment events, conducting military outreach, and spearheading a mentorship program for new female recruits. But Jen’s enthusiasm for the fire service actually sparked from her love of medicine.

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Jen discovered her interest in the medical field during high school. As a teen, Jen participated in a high school program that allowed her to visit hospitals and shadow their employees. From them on, she knew she wanted to become a paramedic. In fact, it was the LAFD that put Jen through paramedic school.

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Dr. Kristen Wheldon

Dr. Wheldon 2

In the past year, the Los Angeles Fire Department has hired over 250 new firefighters, and promoted close to 150 officers. This influx of new personnel is untrained in the topics of behavioral health, and unable to provide competent peer support services to fellow LAFD members. What’s more, the LAFD Behavioral Health Program, which is HIPPA compliant, currently consists of one fire psychologist to support over 3600 sworn and civilian members. As a result, LAFD members – the individuals we depend on to keep us safe – are at risk for behavioral health issues.

One individual, Dr. Kristen Wheldon, is doing everything she can to care for the first responders who care for us. Hired in 2016, Dr. Wheldon joined the LAFD with a wide array of professional experience – including the study of combat veterans and work with the inmate-patient population at the California Department of Corrections – that has proved to be a valuable asset to the Behavioral Health Program.

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