Firefighter of the Month

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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.

Thirteen years later, Jen recognizes the importance of job training for adolescents, particularly young women. It’s why she’s been involved with LA Women in Fire Service from the get-go, and why she brought the concept of a fire department camp for girls from Washington to Los Angeles, with fellow LAFD member Captain Monica Hall.

With three already completed, LAFD Girls Camp is a two-day weekend program for 50 or more girls taught by female firefighters and paramedics. Young women aged 14 to 18 participate in a program designed to provide hands-on insight into one of LA’s bravest jobs. Youth are challenged to learn about future career opportunities with fun activities using firefighting and emergency medicine tools and equipment. According to Jen, this camp is a “phenomenal program that empowers women to believe they can do anything they want to do.”

Girls Camp is part of an important effort to attract women to the department, as well as to diversify the department ethnically and to increase local hiring. The camp also serves as an important public service and consciousness-raising experience for the girls. Even for girls who eventually will not become firefighters, this camp is teaching young women that they are strong and will receive support if they choose professions outside of the traditional mold. “We live in a society that puts people in boxes and specific roles,” admits Jen. “This camp gives girls the confidence to do anything they want to do – to pursue careers.”

For those interested in continuing with LAFD, they may choose to become Cadets or to enroll in a fire and emergency medicine magnet high school. But for Jen, “recruitment is secondary. This is still a great way to empower women to have a job in civil service.” With two adopted sons, and a little girl on the way, Jen is driven by her desire to make the department and community better than she found it.

Dr. Kristen Wheldon

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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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Engine 8136

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For Southern California, brush fires are no longer limited to just one season. Instead, these wildland fires rage year-round. Though SoCal residents must take the necessary precautions (instructions can be found here), there is no need to fret. Your Los Angeles Fire Department is prepared for this climate change.

In December 2015, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) granted the LAFD five Type III Wildland Fire Engines. Specifically designed to combat wildfires, these 4×4 off-road capable fire engines are used as front-line and mutual-aid resources against brush fires throughout the state. Today these engines are strategically housed at LAFD stations in Los Feliz and the San Fernando Valley. Together, they form what is referred to as a “strike team.”

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Captain Dustin Clark

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For Captain Dustin Clark, the familial bonds between himself and other firefighters have more meaning than most. The son of a captain who retired with 34 years on the job, and nephew to four uncles with similar stories, Dusty was born and bred into the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Raised in Capistrano Beach, CA, Dusty knew by the age of six that he wanted to spend his life fighting fires. He became a San Clemente Explorer at age 14; at 16, he joined the LAFD Explorer Program — now known as the Cadet Program. Dusty participated in both youth programs simultaneously until he was 18 years old. Soon after, he became a federal firefighter until he joined the LAFD at age 20.

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Firefighter / Paramedic Geoffrey Balchowsky

4EC89FC1-BA25-4D20-81FE-13A93CFD25C8The incident that inspired Geoffrey Balchowsky to become a firefighter for the Los Angeles Fire Department occurred one sunny summer afternoon in 1989, while he was working as a pool lifeguard in Southern California.

From high on his perch that day, Balchowsky noticed a commotion in the water, and saw a man struggling to stay afloat. Without a thought, he dived in, approached the man, and brought him to safety. Back on land, however, Balchowsky found his work had just begun: The victim had a seizure, and the young lifeguard had to administer CPR to save his life.

Today, almost 30 years later, Balchowsky has been a firefighter for 25 years and a member of the LAFD for 20.

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Firefighter/ Paramedic Eldon Karratti

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Picture it: New Year’s Day in Pasadena, the air crisp and the sun shining as those who’ve gathered eagerly await the first floral floats of the Rose Parade. It’s a big crowd, and everyone is buzzing with excitement, chattering and bouncing on the balls of their feet. Suddenly, the sense of merriment shifts. A ripple of distress moves through the crowd. Murmurs that someone has collapsed and needs medical assistance. And yet all the roads are filled, with no room for an ambulance.

Who comes speeding to the rescue? The Los Angeles Fire Department Bike Medic Team! This specially trained and certified group of 180 LAFD members is ready to respond to those who need help but are located in places inaccessible to ambulances or other large emergency vehicles.

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Firefighter/ Paramedic Benjamin Arnold

b-arnold-2 When Firefighter/Paramedic Benjamin Arnold joined the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) in 2006, he had no way of knowing his chosen profession would one day take him 7,459 miles away from home.

Born and raised in Southern California, Arnold became a firefighter for the same reasons many of his peers do: the camaraderie, the chance to work with his hands, and the opportunity to help other people.

What sets Arnold apart, however, is his work with the Emergency Volunteers Project (EVP), an Israel-based nonprofit that trains and certifies volunteer teams to deploy to Israel during crises. Since its inception in 2009, EVP has trained more than 950 emergency volunteers and professional first-responders throughout the USA and Israel.

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Captain Chip Cervantes

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Captain Chip Cervantes began his journey to become a firefighter as a teenager, when he joined the LA County Fire Department’s Cadet Program — what has since been named the Explorer Program.

Created for young men and women from ages 14 to 20, the Cadet Program teaches them to work side by side with members of the fire department; as cadets, they participate in trainings, meetings, and occasional ride-alongs. But besides helping them learn about fire service, the program’s main goal — both then and now — is to instill a sense of responsibility for their neighborhood through ongoing community-related activities.

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Firefighter Paramedics Gregory Harvey and Cory McDaniel

 

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Located at 7th and St. Julian Streets in L.A.’s Skid Row district and flanked by encampments of homeless people in all directions, LAFD Fire Station 9 is one of the city’s busiest. For its first responders, 80 calls a day is normal. For Firefighter Paramedics Gregory Harvey and Cory McDaniel, responding to countless medical emergencies is all in a day’s work.

Yet outside their “office,” as they call it, Harvey and McDaniel are both family men living oddly parallel lives. They reside approximately 100 yards away from one another; they’re both married with three young daughters — all under the age of 10 — who go to school together, play together, and await their fathers’ return together. And it’s these girls that inspired Harvey and McDaniel to launch a battalion-wide school supply drive.

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Engineer Darin Laier

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In October 2015, Engineer Darin Laier, who at the time was an LAFD firefighter, was on vacation in Kauai, Hawaii, with his wife and four-year-old triplets. Laier and his family were enjoying an afternoon at Queen’s Bath, an area on the north side of the island. While the spot is advertised to tourists as a calm swimming hole, in the winter months it is notorious for treacherous waves.

As Laier and his family were making their way back from the beach, they spotted a group of three highschool-aged teenagers taking photos on a cluster of rocks. Preoccupied with their cameras, the three failed to realize that with each crash against the rocks, the waves were growing stronger and more threatening. Suddenly, a rogue wave surged against them, engulfing them entirely. While two of the teens were lucky enough to be pushed back against the rock wall behind them, the third, a girl, slipped out of sight, sucked deep into a cavernous pool of aerated water approximately 35 feet below the rocks.

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