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LAFD Magnet Program Changes Lives

Battalion Chief Larson speaks with Woodrow Wilson High School sophmores enrolled in the Firefighter/EMS Magnet Program during their March 28, 2019 annual inspection.

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When Battalion Chief Kristine Larson assumed command of the LAFD’s Firefighter Recruitment Section this spring, little did she know how life-changing the Firefighter/EMS Magnet Program is for youth in Los Angeles.

“It’s hard to quantify how important this academy is based solely on numbers,” Larson said. “You see improved grades but you also see newfound self-confidence in students who overall want to be better citizens.”

The Firefighter/EMS Magnet Program, one of four LAFD youth programs, provides high school students at L.A. campuses a chance to learn about a career with the fire service. This is accomplished through fire stations visits, classroom lessons and team-building activities that teach the importance of self-worth and camaraderie. A formal inspection at the end of each school year provides students a chance to show their pride in the FEMS Program.

This year’s inspection at Woodrow Wilson High School is one that Chief Larson will not soon forget.

“A mother approached us, with tears in her eyes, and thanked us for the program,” Larson said. “She pointed out her son and told me how this program changed his outlook on life.”

The young man’s mother explained how he had been struggling at home and school. That changed after he joined FEMS. He received encouragement from the staff and his fellow students that gave him the confidence to bring his grades up. That confidence was further showcased when his classmates selected him to lead their grade’s chant at the conclusion of the inspection.

“This program does more than provide students a chance to prepare for a career in the fire department,” Larson said. “It provides them an opportunity to discover their own self-worth. That is priceless.”

April 2019 Firefighter of the Month: Firefighter / Paramedic Dexter McDaniel

Fire Station 79 – Harbor Gateway

For almost 30 years Firefighter/Paramedic Dexter McDaniel has done more than help people on the job as a firefighter. He also donates his personal time to teach people how to prepare for an interview with the LAFD.

“We often talk about ourselves in a way that fits into a standard model,” McDaniel said. “The first thing I tell anyone is that there is no one better to tell your story than you.”

The LAFD employs a comprehensive oral interview during its hiring process. McDaniel knew candidates often fall back on habits like speaking chronologically and answering questions with limited information. To combat this he created a way to help people discover how to use their personal strengths, traits and experiences by outlining them similar to the floor plan of a house.

“You can walk into your house from any direction and still know where each room is,” McDaniel said. “The same applies here. We fill your house with everything that makes you stand out so that no matter what question is asked, you can choose any room to walk into and find the answer you need.”

His method quickly became popular. McDaniel’s phone began receiving calls from people across California, New Mexico, Texas, Georgia and even New York. No matter the distance, McDaniel always asks for the same three things from each person he helps. A classmate t-shirt, a promise that they will work to help others and that they never forget that someone spent time to help them.

McDaniel estimates that he’s spent more than 2,000 hours helping over 500 individuals since he joined the LAFD. If someone is unable to meet at his fire station or talk over the phone, he opens the door to his own home for meetings.

When not working at Fire Station 79 or helping someone prepare for an interview, McDaniel enjoys traveling, camping and glamping with his wife, Judy.

March 2019 Firefighter of the Month: Captain Amy Bastman

LAFD Metropolitan Fire Communications Dispatch Center, Downtown Los Angeles

Imagine being the voice of the largest fire department on the west coast each time you come to work. For two years Amy Bastman served in this capacity in her role as a Public Service Officer (PSO).

“I learned more about this department than I ever would have because of this position,” Bastman said. “Having the chance to share all the different things we do each day reminds me that I get to work for the best, the LAFD.”

Bastman is one of three PSO’s based at the department’s 911 call dispatch center. Some of her duties include answering public phone calls, serving as a spokesperson during incidents, crafting safety messages and managing the LAFD’s ever growing social media presence.

“The PSO position is critical to telling the LAFD’s story on all platforms,” Bastman said. “I am able to see people’s reactions to our work from across the globe in real time.”

Bastman’s time as a PSO occurred during one of the most challenging fire seasons in recent history. In December of 2017 she reported on the LAFD’s efforts in simultaneously battling the Creek and Skirball wildfires. She gave dozens of live interviews and provided information on social media. Bastman also assisted in the creation and distribution of incident maps for both fires viewed approximately 4 million times. She would later be awarded a Notice of Commendation by the LAFD for her exceptional efforts during this time.

Besides her public relations skills, Bastman is a certified paramedic, urban search and rescue technician and hazardous materials specialist. In her 11-year career with the LAFD, she has served out of fire stations across the city and been part of responses for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Outside her LAFD work, Bastman is a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation mentor who provides guidance for parents whose child has recently been diagnosed with the disease. She enjoys playing on the LAFD’s ice hockey team, outdoor activities and spending time with her wife and three children.

The LAFD Foundation congratulates Captain Bastman on her promotion to the rank of Captain I and wishes her well at her new assignment at Fire Station 52.

February 2019 Firefighter of the Month: Pilot David Nordquist

Air Operations Unit – Fire Station 114, Van Nuys Airport

Pilot David Nordquist has always loved aviation. He was 8 years old when he went on his first flight at the Van Nuys Airport. Little did Nordquist know that years later he would be saving lives by flying LAFD helicopters out of the same airport.

“I was flying airplanes before and after joining the department in my spare time, but never thought I would connect the two,” Nordquist said. “When I was approached about joining Air Operations, I learned this is the ultimate multi-tasking job because you’re a firefighter and pilot at the same time.”

Nordquist had already served as a firefighter and engineer for a combined 23 years when he joined the Air Operations unit in 2004. As a trainee, he worked as a crew chief, hoist operator, safety member and rescuer before becoming a pilot.

The Air Operations unit responds to situations like brush fires, hoist rescues and can be used as an air ambulance. Other scenarios Nordquist has personally flown include the transportation of a SWAT team to Big Bear, airlifting someone off Catalina Island and rescuing large animals. Of all these experiences, a rescue made during last year’s Woolsey Fire will always stand out in his mind.

“We had just made a water drop when the call came in that some folks on Castro Peak were trapped,” Nordquist said. “We were getting low on fuel but knew we were the only way those people were getting out of there.”

After Nordquist skillfully landed the helicopter on the rugged hilltop, fellow Pilot Joel Smith jumped out and led the three individuals and their two dogs to the aircraft. As Nordquist lifted the helicopter back into the air with everyone safely aboard, he was able to see that the flames had only been a single hilltop away. For their heroic actions, both Nordquist and Smith received a Certificate of Recognition in January 2019 from the LA City Council.

Nordquist has been a member of the LAFD for a total of 38 years and will be retiring this spring with more than 3,200 flight hours. He enjoys hiking, traveling, building model airplanes and spending time with his wife and children.

 

January 2019 Firefighter of the Month: Captain I Thomas Henzgen

Urban Search & Rescue 88 – Sherman Oaks

Have you ever heard of the fire department term, “first in?” This phrase refers to a geographical area that a specific fire station will respond to incidents first because they are the closest resource. For Captain I Thomas Henzgen and the LAFD’s Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) team, the entire City of Los Angeles is their “first in.”

“We are dispatched to every technical rescue, physical rescue and large structure fire no matter where it’s located,” Henzgen said. “At a moment’s notice we’re ready to respond and solve a difficult puzzle to help rescue someone…it’s an exciting challenge.”

Henzgen serves as one of the captains on US&R 88, a specially designed apparatus tailored to the US&R team’s needs based out of Fire Station 88. He oversees US&R responses to situations such as: confined space, cliff, tower crane, storm drain, river, collapsed structure, mudslide, collapsed trench, flooding and many other technical rescue incidents.

“The things we respond to require a lot of thought about how best to approach them,” Henzgen said. “A collapsed structure, for example, might need shoring to support it before, during and after the actual rescue. Every situation is unique.”

Henzgen’s technical rescue knowledge stems from more than 20 years of professional experience including his tenure with the LAFD as well as his time as a structural engineer and general contractor. His public service interest began with a ski patrol and includes time with mountain rescue and law enforcement agencies. Henzgen’s path to join the LAFD took more than nine years and became a reality in September of 1998.

Since that first day he put on an LAFD badge Henzgen has explored other areas in the department. He is currently the coordinator of the LAFD’s Swift Water Rescue team and is a State Fire Training Certified Instructor in various US&R disciplines. He has also been deployed to aid the recovery efforts across the nation following six different hurricanes.

“No matter where I go, the best reward is just offering assistance in a time of need,” Henzgen said. “Having that opportunity to go help, I don’t need anything more than that.”

 

December 2018 Firefighter of the Month: Firefighter Elvis Hernandez

Fire Station 96 – Chatsworth

As Firefighter Elvis Hernandez put on his gear and climbed into Engine 96 on the afternoon of November 8, little did he know he would be one of the first to arrive on the scene of the largest wildfire in Los Angeles County’s history – the Woolsey Fire.

“When we stepped out of the engine we were slammed with 30 mph wind gusts,” Hernandez said. “Flames were everywhere. Combined with the wind, we knew this fire was going to be big.”

Hernandez and his crew responded to the fire at Susana Field Laboratory site, more commonly known as “Rocketdyne,” from Chatsworth’s Fire Station (FS) 96. They quickly extended more than 800 feet of hose line through the rocky hills and brush to combat the fire as it was driven west by the wind. Equipment provided by other agencies throughout the day allowed the hose line to ultimately extend to 1,600 feet.

“We were on the fire for 12 hours before we finally headed home,” Hernandez said. “Once we got back, we started getting things ready for the next shift in case they got called back out…and they did.”

Over the next two days Hernandez could see the towering column of smoke in the distance as he worked other duties at FS 96. He recalls how much it meant when members of the community stopped by the station to donate food and other supplies to say thank you. Later Hernandez was on his way to the Rocky Peak Fire that quickly closed the 118 freeway and threatened homes in Simi Valley. Upon their arrival, he and his crew quickly engaged in structure protection of the houses closest to the fire.

“There was so much smoke coming down the hills, there was a time I couldn’t see people in front of me,” Hernandez said. “We laid our hoses out and started moving backyard furniture in case the fire got close.”

Helicopters from the LAFD and other agencies managed to halt the flames about 200 feet away from the homes. While the bulk of the fire was stopped, Hernandez and his crew stayed vigilant and doused hotspots throughout the afternoon.

From fighting brush fires, responding to medical calls or helping the community in other ways, Hernandez has always had a passion to serve as a first responder. He was inspired to join the fire service after watching firefighter/paramedics save his little brother who had accidentally cut his forehead open 16 years ago.

October 2018 Firefighter of the Month: Captain Michael “Mike” Flynn

Fire Communications & Dispatch Section – Metro Fire Communications (Downtown Los Angeles)

What was your first interaction with the fire department as a kid? For some it was at a local parade or during fire service day at school. For Captain Michael “Mike” Flynn, it was calling 911 during a family member’s heart attack and watching paramedics from the Los Angeles Fire Department respond in his family’s time of need.

“The feeling of not knowing what to do in that situation and then having people come in who did is what really drove me to join the LAFD,” Flynn said.

Assigned to the LAFD’s Fire Communications & Dispatch Section, Flynn is in charge of the installation, deployment and training of new digital communications technology such as radios, mobile broadband devices and live streaming equipment. His personal interest in communications was sparked when he created an app that provides the LAFD information for fire station locations, radio frequencies, hospital information, maps and other resources. Besides giving members the ability to access these resources outside standard cell coverage areas, it also provides one central location to find everything.

“My goal for creating the app was to build a ‘one-stop shop’ that our members could find anything in three clicks,” Flynn said. “By increasing their efficiency, I’ve increased their safety while working. That’s the best reward for me.”

Besides his duties with communications and dispatch, Flynn, a 15-year veteran, has also explored other areas of the department. Since 2012 he has served as a member of the LAFD’s Swift Water Rescue team. As part of this team, Flynn has worked with the LAFD Foundation to obtain new, life-saving equipment including eye and ear protective gear as well as crossline reach devices. These devices had previously been out of production, but Flynn’s efforts led the manufacturer to reproduce them for the department. This equipment can now be found on all the LAFD’s Urban Search & Rescue apparatus.

When not surrounded by digital screens or riding turbulent waters to help save lives, Flynn enjoys surfing and traveling with his wife and two daughters.

September 2018 Firefighter of the Month: Engineer Jeffery “Jeff” Braff

Fire Station 112 (San Pedro)

Home to Fire Boat No. 2, one of the LAFD’s most powerful apparatus, Fire Station 112 in San Pedro hosts annual visits from local, national and foreign dignitaries. Knowing that the visibility of this station was a reflection of the LAFD, Engineer Jeff Braff took it upon himself to lead the redevelopment of FS 112’s front landscape during his spare time at the station.

“I’ve always tried to treat every station I’ve worked at like it’s my second home,” Braff said. “I’d just re-landscaped my own home and thought with a little work, we could really showcase this station in the right way.”

Braff rallied the support of his crew and lead the way by pulling out water-thirsty plants, re-soiling the grounds and researching new, drought-resistant plants to use. When the time came to purchase new plants, he purchased some with his own funds. He is now designing a drip-system to water each plant directly that will help prevent the water runoff that normal sprinkler systems allow.

This project has been one of the highlights of Braff’s time at FS 112 where he has spent the last three of his 25 years with the LAFD. Graduating from Drill Tower 89 (North Hollywood), he began his career as a firefighter and worked at 10 different stations throughout Los Angeles. During this time he secured his paramedic license and promoted to Engineer before landing at FS 112 in March of 2015. Operating as a dual land/sea response fire station, Braff has the unique opportunity to serve as the Engineer on both the fire engine and Fire Boat No. 2, depending on the rotation.

“As an engineer on the fire engine I’m the one responsible for the maintenance, operation of the pumps and getting the crew to and from an incident safely,” Braff said. “On the fire boat my job is basically the same minus driving to the incident; we have a pilot who takes us out and back.”

When not working on Fire Boat No. 2, FS 112’s fire engine or the front landscape, Braff enjoys spending time with his wife and two children. Both his son and daughter aspire to become members of the LAFD just like their father.

August 2018 Firefighter of the Month: Firefighter Paul Wingate

Crew 3

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.

 

July 2018 Firefighter of the Month: Captain Cody Weireter

Fire Station 46 – Coliseum Area

It’s not often you grow up seeing your father on the news representing one of the largest fire departments in the country. This was part of Captain I Cody Weireter’s childhood, as he watched his father serve as a Public Information Officer (PIO) in the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD). Little did Capt. Weireter know that over 20 years later, he would be on the news representing the LAFD as a PIO now it is his sons who are at home watching him on TV.

“While serving as the lead PIO during the Skirball Fire last year, I was in an interview that my two boys saw while home with my wife,” Capt. Weireter said. “My four-year-old started yelling ‘daddy’s on TV’ and my one-year-old just couldn’t believe it.“

Born and raised in Van Nuys, Calif., Capt. Weireter grew up in a family with first responders in its blood. Besides his father being an LAFD firefighter, his mother served as a Los Angeles Police Department officer. Realizing his own calling to become involved with public safety at the age of 14, he became an Explorer (now called Cadets) at Post 100. After spending almost every weekend doing ride-alongs and learning more about the fire department, Capt. Weireter knew being a firefighter was his calling. McCormick Ambulance hired him in 2005 as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) where he worked for four years before being accepted into the LAFD. In 2009, Capt. Weireter proudly put on an LAFD uniform following his graduation from Drill Tower 40 (Terminal Island).

“Becoming a firefighter for this department was my goal from the beginning,” Capt. Weireter said. “To have my parents, with their backgrounds, there to see me there wearing my own badge, it’s hard to describe what that meant.”

 ABOVE (1): With a radio in hand,  a young Capt. Weireter rides through a community parade with his father in the LAFD bandwagon. 

After working at fire stations throughout downtown Los Angeles and one in Canoga Park, Capt. Weireter became a staff assistant to the Chief of Battalion 10, which oversees a section of the San Fernando Valley. During this time he became interested in using his public speaking skills for the department as a PIO and registered for a pair of classes, one offered by the Ventura County Fire Department and another by the LAFD. Following his passage of these classes, he became a PIO for the department in 2014. Representing Battalion 10 at small events, Capt. Weireter soon found himself at much larger incidents like a major water-main break on the UCLA campus, the Wharf Fire in San Pedro, and serving as a field PIO during the LA Marathon.

After serving as a staff assistant for Battalion 10 for four years, Capt. Weireter took the captain’s test and was promoted to Captain I in July of 2017. He is currently assigned to Fire Station 46 with a team he describes a a “great crew.” He attributes his success as a captain this past year to them.

“I couldn’t wait to be the one who set the tone for the day for a crew like this,” Capt. Weireter said “Being able to create an environment here at the station feel that allows everyone to feel comfortable, enjoy what they do and go home safe at the end of the day is a mission accomplished for me.”

When not working at Station 46 or in the role of a PIO, Capt. Weireter enjoys spending time with his family and often volunteers to bring the LAFD bandwagon, an original 1931-built Seagrave fire engine, out to community events with his father. This is a legacy he looks forward to continuing on with his family

ABOVE (2): Three generations of the Weireter family are seen as Capt. Weireter’s father, four-year-old son and the Captain himself pose in front of the LAFD bandwagon. Bringing this historic apparatus out to community events has truly become a family affair.