Firefighter of the Month

News

Captain Dustin Clark

Battalion 8 Edited

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.

For Dusty, the LAFD is more than just a job, which offers up a clue as to why he’s involved in so many aspects of the fire service. In addition to working as a co-captain with his first cousin at Station 9 — one of the busiest fire stations in the country — Dusty also serves as an Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) instructor and a member of the Swift Water Rescue team.

Though all these positions contribute to the person he is today, Dusty has had one role with the LAFD that has “defined [him] not only as a firefighter, but as a person.” Following the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, Dusty was hand-picked to join “Battalion 8,” a cohort of eight LAFD members who traveled to New York to assist the FDNY for eight days. During that time, Battalion 8 worked shoulder to shoulder with the FDNY, clearing out rubble and uncovering human remains.

Today, Dusty says, he still has an enduring bond with Battalion 8, “a bond that can only be forged in those kinds of unimaginable circumstances.” In fact, one of the group’s members ended up marrying Dusty’s cousin.

With broadly varied responsibilities and an unceasing willingness to lend a hand for special activities (not to mention his support of Fahrenheit 2017, which the Foundation couldn’t have pulled off without him!) Captain Dusty Clark exemplifies the talent and dedication reserved for the best of the LAFD. Whether related by blood or not, he clearly considers the men and women he works with as “family” — those for whom he’s always willing to go the extra mile.

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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Firefighter Reuben Chan

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Back in his days at Mount San Antonio Junior College, Reuben Chan wanted to be an architect. But he loved working outside, and balked at the idea of being stuck behind a desk all day.

One afternoon on campus, he came across a booth with information about the fire service. He signed up for a few classes on the spot, eventually took them all, and over the next few years trained to become a firefighter. Since 2000, he has served as a sworn member of the Los Angeles Fire Department, working as a firefighter at Fire Station 85 in Harbor City and Station 64 in Watts, and a peer training instructor at Drill Tower 40.

What sets Chan apart from the length of his service, however, is his clear and purposeful dedication to mentoring, teaching, and inspiring other firefighters — those who serve already as well as those those who dream of doing so one day.

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Captain Eddie Marez

As a boy, Eddie Marez loved interacting with firefighters at community events. In time, his interactions inspired him to join the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Explorer program (now called the Cadet Program). “Being an Explorer made me realize that I liked the firefighter lifestyle, the team atmosphere, and the adrenaline rush of going to an emergency,” he recalls. With that mindset as well as encouragement from the program’s Captain Ralph Rodriguez, Eddie began his first of what has become a 22-year career with the LAFD, where he’s now a captain.

Taking his lead from Captain Rodriguez, Eddie has remained deeply involved with LAFD youth programs. He currently assists in the creation and implementation of the LAFD High School Magnet Program, a four-year program that combines fire service and emergency medicine training and education with the approved high school college-prep curriculum. The first of its kind, it includes fire science classes, first aid and CPR, physical agility training, and leadership training.

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Inspector/Paramedic Gayle Sonoda

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Inspector/Paramedic Gayle Sonoda’s path to the Los Angeles Fire Department was unique. While a student at Chapman University, she served as athletic trainer for the Los Angeles Heat, a charity-supporting football team made up of LAFD firefighters and paramedics. In time, her trainees urged her to join the Department herself, bringing her on ride-alongs and station visits.

Fast forward eight years, and Gayle has made a name for herself on the Department, having completed the paramedic program and been promoted to Fire Inspector at Fire Station 57. She is currently part of the team spearheading LAFD’s innovative Community Risk Reduction (CRR) unit, which aims to raise community awareness of risk reduction through the utilization of metrics, technology, and community partnerships.

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