Firefighter of the Month

News

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

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            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

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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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