NEWS + UPDATES
A collection of articles related to the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) and the LAFD Foundation.
Arson Investigator Afara Lalaind honored by Angel City Football Club during May 13 match.
PHILLIPS 66 FUNDS NEEDED REPAIRS AND UPGRADES FOR LOCAL FIRE STATION
Thanks to Phillips 66, firefighters, paramedics, and emergency services personnel can look forward to sizable improvements and needed repairs at Fire Station 112, at the Port of Los Angeles.
Gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel provider Phillips 66 generously donated $20,000 to the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Foundation to fulfill pressing needs for firefighters protecting the second largest seaport in the U.S.
Donated funds will help address infrastructure repairs and provide needed fitness equipment for LAFD members supporting essential operations at 25 cargo terminals, 82 container cranes, and over 40 miles of waterfront.
"We are proud to sponsor the LAFD Foundation as an organization that upholds our core value of safety," said Tim Seidel, General Manager, Phillips 66 Los Angeles Refinery. "At Phillips 66, we share our communities and support organizations that focus on protecting our neighbors and ensuring our safety and well-being.”
The crew at Fire Station 112 handles a variety of all-risk rescue services, including water and cliff rescues, emergency medical calls, wharf fires, boat fires, stranded or sunken vessels, fuel spills, and tanker inspections.
“On behalf of the Los Angeles City Fire Department and the members of Station 112, we thank Phillips 66 for their support and generosity,” expressed Deputy Chief Ronnie Villanueva, the LAFD’s South Bureau Commander. “We appreciate this timely donation. This will go a long way towards improving living and working conditions for the dedicated crew at Station 112.”
Farewell Chief Ralph Terrazas
Thank you, Ralph Terrazas, for your unwavering service to the City of Los Angeles for the past 38 years. The Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation has been honored to have collaborated with you to secure essential tools and equipment for the LAFD over the past 8 years. Wishing you an enjoyable and fulfilling retirement ahead.
In honor of his retirement, the LAFD Foundation team asked Chief Terrazas some questions before his departure from the Fire Chief’s Office.
Q & A with Chief Terrazas:
Q: Any plans to celebrate your retirement?
A: Absolutely, I want to show my appreciation to all those who have supported me throughout my career. Therefore, I’ll be taking my family on a vacation. I’ll also be taking my parents to a special dinner. For my LAFD family, I’m treating my headquarters staff to a luncheon and my Chief Officers to a catered lunch following my last “All Chief’s Meeting”. For my retired LAFD family/golf buddies, I’ll be doing something special for them during one of the many golf trips being planned this year.
Q: What are the little things you are going to miss?
A: I’ll miss working on a daily basis with our amazing LAFD civilians and sworn members toward the common goal of protecting the people of Los Angeles.
Q: What is your favorite LAFD tradition?
A: Baskins Robbin's ice cream!
Q: What do I want to be remembered for?
A: That I left the LAFD a little better than I found it.
Q: Any words of wisdom for possible future chiefs coming up in the academy?
A: Think of every assignment as an opportunity to contribute in the best way that you can, to the effectiveness of the LAFD.
Q: Of all the funding projects you have collaborated on with the Foundation, do you have a favorite?
A: Without a doubt, the projects that had a direct correlation to firefighter safety were my favorites. This would include our new structural firefighting gloves, the handheld Thermal Imaging Cameras, and the RS3 Firefighting Robot.
Q: If the current day you could say anything to yourself as a rookie, what would that be?
A: Your childhood dream of becoming an LAFD Firefighter will be even better than you dreamed of!
Muralist Rosie Tos Brings Fire Station Identities to Life
It all started in 2004. A local artist named Rosie Tos stopped by her local fire station (LAFD Station 63) in Venice. The mural specialist sparked a conversation with one of the captains on duty, who shared that their annual inspection was approaching. He explained the outside bench was in too poor of shape to pass.
Once Tos heard this, she immediately offered her creative services, bringing the bench "back to life." Little did she know that this one small project would lead to a prolific career in the fire community spanning throughout the country.
Following the completion of the bench, word traveled quickly within the LAFD of Tos' talent, attention to detail, and competitive pricing. It was not long before stations all over the city were reaching out. But what makes her artwork so unique? Tos understands that each station has its history and personality, just like the community it serves. Before every project, Tos collaborates with the station members to ensure that she incorporates the characteristic details that reflect the station's uniqueness.
"I know I will never become rich doing this… [but] I love to see their faces when the artwork is completed, and I love that they trust me with the design," expressed Tos.
Inspired by the nature of the fire service, Tos is committed to continuing to help enhance a station's appearance while simultaneously instilling a community's pride in its members.
Tos' artwork can be found in fire stations from coast to coast, such as the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), and New York Fire Department (FDNY). Tos shares, "It is a blessing to have other departments contacting me too, but LAFD will always be the one I enjoy working with the most."
Tos has painted more than 55 LAFD works of art over the past 15 years. More recently, she has learned graphic design and has started designing custom station logos and fun caricatures of firefighters, all of which is on display on her Instagram @Tostos1.
Familiar Faces Call for Donations to Fund Life-Saving Equipment
THANK YOU to Pauley Perrette for assembling a star-studded call to action to help the LAFD!
Please join these familiar faces in supporting our firefighters and paramedics. Donate today to help secure the tools and equipment they rely on to protect homes and save lives.
Donations help the LAFD Foundation fulfill needs for critical equipment such as:
- Night vision goggles for the LAFD's helicopter pilots
- Chainsaws and protective gear for wildfire hand crews
- Life-saving automated external defibrillators to help patients experiencing cardiac emergencies
Click here to view the LAFD Foundation's funding priorities, or click the button below to contribute now.
Members of FEMA's California Task Force 1 at the site of the World Trade Center in 2001.
Remembering Ground Zero
20 Year Anniversary | 9/11 Look Back
Twenty years ago, LAFD member Steve Hissong recalled a sense of disbelief as he watched the news coverage of a Boeing 767 which had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. He sat glued to the television watching what appeared to be a tragic accident.
Nearly 20 minutes later, he witnessed the second plane collide with the South Tower, and at that moment, he was filled with dread. "This was no accident," shared Hissong. "It was clear that this was deliberate… And I immediately thought we're next."
His heart sank and his head spun. Hissong, then a Captain I assigned to Fire Station 20 in Echo Park, could not make sense of what he had just seen. As the morning progressed, his thoughts bounced between the events unfolding in New York and Washington D.C. and the vulnerability of possible targets in Los Angeles.
"The call came in about half an hour after the buildings collapsed," said Hissong. "My colleague phoned and said we're going; it's time to go to work." At the time, Hissong was part of the relatively new FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Search and Rescue California Task Force 1.
The Task Force was comprised of 66 members, almost entirely LAFD-sworn personnel and a select few specialized civilians. Hissong and his teammates were instructed to pack their gear and head to Fire Station 88 in Sherman Oaks to prepare for deployment.
"It was particularly tough to separate from our families," shared Hissong. "This wasn't like a wildfire deployment or other big natural disaster like what we were used to. Saying goodbye to my wife and two young kids at the time was really tough. I hated leaving them at such an unstable time." Surprisingly, Hissong recalls that switching his mindset into work mode helped block out much of the fear and uncertainty that his family, teammates, and the country at large were struggling to process.
In the late-night hours of September 11, 2001, the task force filed onto buses at Station 88 and convoyed to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, where they boarded a military transport plane bound for Fort Dix in New Jersey. From Fort Dix, the task force piled into waiting buses and drove North to New York's Javits Convention Center – FEMA's staging area for the response efforts. The road in was stacked for blocks with fire trucks and emergency response vehicles funneling into the city.
The following morning, Hissong and teammates advanced to an operating base two blocks from Ground Zero. "The drive into the convention center was somber, but we remained optimistic that we would find survivors," recalled Hissong. "We had trained extensively, and we had some of the brightest and most experienced Search and Rescue experts on our team. The drive from the convention center to the operating base delivered a harsh reality check. The streets were lined with a sea of missing persons notes and masses of mourning New Yorkers. It was unlike anything we had ever seen. It's hard to explain, but seeing all that made it personal for us, it gave us a deeper purpose."
The Task Force began their first 12-hour shift on Thursday, two days after the attack. "It was a two-block walk from the operating base to Ground Zero… and It felt like the longest walk of my life," recounted Hissong. "The collapse had covered everything, literally everything, in a coating of dust. It was surreal, like walking through a movie set. Everything was just life-less shades of gray."
As the crew neared the remnants of the towers, the gravity of their task settled in. "No amount of training could have prepared us for what we saw. We flew to New York to help find survivors. Once we laid eyes on the site, it hit everyone simultaneously – this was no longer a rescue operation. The buildings and everything within was completely pulverized. But we had a job to do, and we owed it the members of the FDNY (New York City Fire Department) that were out there working themselves ragged, desperately trying to help their city."
For the next two weeks, the task force would spend 12-16 hours per day meticulously sifting through the rubble to recover traces of the nearly 3,000 victims. The frustration set in hard and fast. Even though these were experienced Search and Rescue specialists, finding anything in that degree of destruction was close to impossible. "Mentally and emotionally, it was beyond hard. Knowing that the world was watching made it even harder," shared Hissong. "Providing closure for the victims' families became our goal, and that's what kept us going."
Looking back, Hissong is grateful for having had the opportunity to deploy to Ground Zero, for the bonds he strengthened with his fellow LAFD task force members, and for the life-long friendships forged with members of the FDNY.
"This experience changed me, and it changed the lives of everyone who worked it. These events affected an entire nation. Telling our stories helps keep the memories alive for the 343 FDNY members we lost that day and the thousands of others lost in these horrific attacks. With everything happening in the world today, we would do well to remember how that felt, and how it brought a country together to heal. Maybe recapturing some of that spirit of unity would do a little good for all of us."
Steve Hissong is an Assistant Chief for the LAFD, responsible for overseeing the Training Division.
LAFD Unveils New RS3 Firefighting Robot
On Tuesday, October 13, 2020, the Los Angeles City Fire Department debuted the first robotic firefighting vehicle in the U.S., putting it to use on its first day in service.
The Thermite RS3 (manufactured by Textron: Howe & Howe Technologies) is a compact, low-center of gravity, wide chassis, industrial robotic firefighting vehicle. It is capable of flowing 2,500 gallons per minute and is remotely operated with a controller which provides high-definition video feedback for ultimate maneuverability in difficult conditions.
Coincidentally, the RS3 saw its first deployment the same day it was scheduled to be introduced to the public. The RS3 was spotted at an early morning Major Emergency commercial structure fire in downtown Los Angeles on October 13th, helping with interior fire operations.
The LAFD Foundation was able to secure this incredible technological resource for the LAFD thanks to generous contributions from the Musk Foundation and the Tides Foundation.
The RS3 will be housed at a Downtown-area fire station as a part of the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.
Board Member Spotlight: Dean Ulrich
Meet Dean Ulrich, LAFD Foundation board member and retired LAFD member. Dean spent three and half decades serving the people of Los Angeles. He held many posts over the course an illustrious career, retiring in 2018 as an assistant chief and the LAFD operations officer for Los Angeles International Airport.
Shortly after hanging up his uniform, Dean joined the Foundation board, and brought a wealth of experience to the LAFD’s official non-profit partner. Dean’s leadership is particularly beneficial in advancing the Adopt-A-Fire-Station (AAFS) program. He has been invaluable in sharing his in-depth knowledge of the department’s needs and operations.
In fact, Dean was a key figure in establishing the groundwork for what would grow into a department-wide program affecting life at all 106 fire stations. In the late 1990s, he was the captain assigned to Fire Station 19 in Brentwood. “At the time, it was not the most desirable post. The station was constructed in 1949. It had been in service for close to fifty years by the time I arrived there. The station was in serious need of repairs and upgrades to basic amenities,” recalled Dean.
“We made multiple attempts to address the station needs, going through the appropriate processes. Each time we received the same response, that there simply wasn’t enough in the budget to handle it,” added Dean. “It was left up to us to try to figure something out.”
Dean and his colleagues reached out to the local newspaper for help. “We called the Brentwood News and told them about our situation, and it took off from there. Local businesses and residents rallied to help us. We ended up raising $250,000 from our community for station improvements.”
News of Station 19’s good fortune spread quickly across the city. It was not long before captains from other stations were contacting Dean to ask for guidance, hoping they might replicate the approach. “It was fascinating to see different communities embracing their fire stations, but this grassroots method also created logistical challenges and some legal concerns.”
An independent non-profit organization was eventually established to help manage community support for fire stations across the city. In 2010, the managing of the AAFS program transitioned to the LAFD Foundation. This past year, the Foundation provided more than $1,700,000 in equipment replacements and improvements to the fire stations.
“It is amazing that 23 years later, the Adopt-A-Fire-Station program is going strong,” shared Dean. “I’m grateful I played a small part at the onset and am grateful that I can continue to help this program grow in my role with the Foundation.”
RECOVERING FROM COVID: Firefighter Noe Lopez’s Harrowing Account
Firefighter Noe Lopez is a 20-year veteran of the LAFD. The San Pedro native has seen all types of incidents and traumatic experiences while serving our communities. However, nothing could have prepared him for how contracting COVID-19 would impact his family.
Lopez woke up on a Friday morning with a searing pain in his throat. It was March 27th, the day after working a typical shift at Fire Station 36 (San Pedro, CA). He recalls telling his wife, Bonnie, that it felt like an ugly case of strep. Still, given the range of questionable incidents he’d responded to lately, he figured it was worth getting tested if his symptoms didn’t quickly subside.
The next day, Lopez phoned in sick and reported to the LAFD testing site near Dodger Stadium.
At that point, the anxiety of waiting for his results felt worse than his physical symptoms. He headed home, hoping some much-deserved rest would help speed along his recovery.
In the two weeks prior, Lopez had responded to numerous incidents that involved, or “potentially” involved COVID patients – including dozens of EMS calls, and a slight uptick in medical calls involving ill seniors.
Lopez was part of the first-in crew on a call to assist an ill inmate at Terminal Island Prison – where shortly after, the virus prompted a mass evacuation after close to 700 confirmed COVID cases. He also responded to several incidents involving severely ill patients on cruise ships at the port.
In the days leading up to FF Lopez receiving his test results, Bonnie began experiencing some stronger-than-usual allergy-type symptoms. She decided not to take any chances and booked her testing appointment. Noe was already self-quarantining at home, but she needed to ensure it was safe for her to continue interacting with their son and live-in niece.
Oddly enough, Bonnie’s testing results arrived before Noe’s. She had tested positive. “It was an emotional gut punch,” expressed Noe. “I was in disbelief that this was probably my fault. I’d brought this on my family. You know there are certain risks with this job, but I had really hoped I could have prevented bringing this home.”
Bonnie was one of the fortunate ones. Her symptoms varied daily, but never advanced beyond a stuffy nose, itchy throat, and watery eyes. Meanwhile, Noe’s condition was worsening quickly. By the time his results arrived two days after Bonnie’s, it served as confirmation of what they had suspected.
“You name it, it hit me,” remarked Noe. “I had it all - body aches, chills, joint pain, loss of taste, smell and appetite. I could not sleep. And when I did manage to drift off for a few hours, I was hit with those hallucinogenic nightmares. Crazy stuff. But managing the fever was the hardest part.”
“Like clockwork, we had to cover him with cold packs, and give him Tylenol every four hours,” Bonnie shared. As the effects of the Tylenol wore off, Noe’s temperature would skyrocket to 103.8° F. Noe and Bonnie’s daughter, an RN, would also routinely help check the oxygen levels in her dad’s blood. Normal pulse oximeter readings usually range from 95 to 100% - on day nine, Noe’s dropped to 88%.
At this point, Bonnie had enough. She insisted on taking him to the hospital. He mustered enough strength for a quick shower and was driven by his wife and son to Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center. He was immediately admitted and prepared for transfer to a Torrance-area hospital better equipped to handle his condition.
Noe explained that he went along with going to the hospital to appease his family. He had no idea the advancing hypoxia was inhibiting his mental clarity. During the intake process, he learned that had he delayed seeking treatment by just one more day, he would have needed a breathing tube inserted through his windpipe.
FF Lopez spent the next four days bedridden in the hospital. Chest x-rays revealed pneumonia in both lungs. He was administered the immunosuppressive drug - hydroxychloroquine, a Z-Pak of antibiotics, fever reducer, and pain medications.
Understandably, Bonnie and his children were not permitted to visit. They relied on phone calls to help keep his spirits up, even convincing Noe to try FaceTime for the first time.
By day five, FF Lopez was able walk on his own to the restroom. “It was a small victory. I felt like I’d just run five miles when it was only 15 feet to the bathroom,” he recounted. Against Bonnie’s wishes, Noe was discharged later that day, unofficially because the hospital needed space for incoming COVID patients. He was sent home with a portable oxygen machine, which he would use for the next three weeks.
Recovery was a grueling process, but Noe credits Bonnie with furthering his progress each day. “On top of checking my vitals and giving me my medications, she’d pump me full of vitamins and home remedies to help me get my strength back,” shared Noe.
By the last week of April, FF Lopez was strong enough for walks around a nearby park. About a month later, he was cleared to return to duty on May 5th. “I wasn’t 100% certain he was ready to go back,” expressed Bonnie. “But it turns out, that was exactly what he needed to take the last step towards a full recovery.”
As of June 17th, FF Lopez revealed that he guesstimates his physical condition is around 95% of where he was before getting sick. “Physically, I’m doing well. Aside from some minor skin discoloration, I just have that little lingering whistle-cough from the pneumonia,” he explained. “It’s the psychological effects that are harder-hitting now. As firefighters, we’re extremely diligent about our safety precautions, but I have to be even more cautious now. I can’t risk a bit smoke inhalation on a fire or coming down with a relapse of COVID.”
After 18 days with a fever, and nearly two months of recovery, life is as close to normal as its going to get for FF Lopez and his family. As a precaution, they still maintain distance from their daughter and other family members. Bonnie wonders aloud if Noe’s damaged lungs will fully recover, and how this illness will affect his long-term health. “He seems like himself again, but what does this mean for his future?”
Still, they are eager to move on from one of the scariest times of their lives, even if Noe still has months of routine medical check-ups ahead. Bonnie has since donated plasma to help other COVID patients. Noe is grateful his senses of taste and smell have returned, allowing him to fully enjoy Bonnie’s home cooking. The four family dogs are no longer skittish around him. Now that he’s off the oxygen machine, his pets have welcomed him back home.
FF Lopez is deeply appreciative for the overwhelming support he received from the entire LAFD family. When asked if there was anything he would like to share with those curious about his experience he said, “You don’t want this [COVID-19]. You really don’t. I’ve heard people say it’s like a bad version of the flu… it’s not. There is no comparison. I’m one of the lucky ones that made it. Hopefully people can learn from this and remember to take their safety and health seriously, especially if you have a family.”
Q&A with Battalion Chief Mike Castillo
June 12, 2020 - Los Angeles, CA
We sat down with Battalion Chief Mike Castillo, a 36-year veteran with the LAFD, to talk about his experience coordinating procurement and distribution of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic for the country’s second largest fire department.
Q: How many roles are you currently serving in for the LAFD?
BC Castillo: It varies at this time. As a BC (“Battalion Chief”), I’m fortunate to be assigned to Battalion 1 in the downtown area, which is my primary duty. Battalion 1 is part of Operations Central Bureau with eight fire stations and approximately 95 personnel per shift. For the past three months, I have been detailed to our Supply and Maintenance Division as a Liaison Officer, assisting with COVID pandemic supplies, and most recently I was detailed to the Boyd Street fire Serious Incident Review, the incident that resulted in severe injuries to twelve of our firefighters
Q: What is a Supply Unit Liaison and why is this designation a bit out of the ordinary?
BC Castillo: A Supply Unit Liaison (SPUL) is a role you’ll typically see activated and assigned during large wildfires, or other incidents that will carry-on for several days. During fire season, this role would help with coordinating meals, distributing equipment and materials - essentially making sure our firefighters have what they need to get their jobs done. The LAFD activated a SPUL for the COVID pandemic but also temporarily detailed a Battalion Chief to the Supply and Maintenance Division as a Liaison Officer to the SPUL, specifically for the pandemic emergency.
Supply Unit specifics vary from incident to incident. For example, at a brush fire, our crews in the field may need wildland hoses, nozzles, etc. The Supply Unit orders, stocks and distributes those items. Whatever the field needs to accomplish the mission, the Supply Unit will typically supply it to them. In this role, personnel are generally responsible for working with vendors, and partners like the LAFD Foundation, to get the resources we need on tight turnaround.
Tasking a Supply Unit Liaison outside of fire season is a bit unusual, but the need arose at the onset of the pandemic, so here we are.
Q: What do those pandemic-related needs look like and when did they surface?
BC Castillo: PPE was, and continues to be the biggest need. Sourcing cleaning supplies, sanitizer and disinfectant were also high priorities. As COVID protocols began ramping up, it became clear very quickly that the LAFD’s supply chain for replenishing PPE was maxing out. Usually, the Department has a pretty good sense of the supplies each fire station runs through on a monthly basis. In the early weeks of the pandemic, our personnel were burning through PPE at lightning speed, much like first responders in many other parts of the country.
Q: This sounds like a huge undertaking. What’s the first task you tackled?
BC Castillo: Without a doubt, assembling a team was the first priority. I requested several Captains and experienced firefighters to serve as Supply Unit Leaders and staff – the same personnel you would see activated for fire season, or deployed to assist other agencies with forest fires or other large incidents. These folks are the backbone of the operation.
They all know what they’re doing, and they do a remarkable job of making things happen. Additionally, a Ground Support Unit was activated under Logistics. Without the hardworking staff of the Ground Support Unit, none of the supplies would have been delivered throughout the City. A big THANK YOU goes to Brian Labrie, Milt Quintana and Dave Lemmond for their expertise and leadership.
Q: Walk us through how your team operates. What’s different from the normal supply chain process?
BC Castillo: Our goal is to ensure all applicable personnel have a steady supply of masks, gloves, face shields, gowns, sanitizer, etc. These supplies are critical to keeping patients and firefighters safe. We cannot allow supply levels to reach zero. So, we essentially set-up the LAFD equivalent of an Amazon Prime. We created a system where field units could place an internal order for PPE or supplies, and our team would coordinate next day delivery. It’s pretty remarkable to see the new system in action.
Q: What type of results are you seeing?
BC Castillo: We are serving all 106 fire stations, our specialty units, and eight of the public COVID testing sites. I’m pleased to say the operation is running smoothly. The supply chain is stable through the next few months, and our personnel don’t have to worry about running out of supplies… barring any major changes. We have been fortunate to avoid the PPE crisis that has befallen other agencies. The personnel assembled for this mission worked six, sometimes seven days week, 15 hours a day during the first month of the pandemic.
Q: How do you think the LAFD avoided completely depleting its PPE inventory?
BC Castillo: Thankfully, we were keeping a watchful eye on unfolding events. The Department had the foresight to place some sizable PPE orders just before things started turning ugly. Also, the LAFD is very fortunate to have some incredible partners, community groups, and of course the LAFD Foundation. Our supporters stepped forward and donated money, or donated supplies during those crucial weeks in March and April. This really helped bridge the gap while we established our new processes.
Q: Is the LAFD prepared for a surge or wave 2?
BC Castillo: I believe we are. We faced some “interesting” challenges in the early weeks. There was a bit of a learning curve because the effects of the pandemic were mostly new. None of us had ever faced anything comparable. But we leaned on our experience and our desire to find solutions, and we were able to stabilize our supply chain. We have a sufficient inventory of essential items, and at least for the foreseeable future, we’ve eliminated the threat of running out of supplies. It’s pretty cool to say we never ran out… It got close there for a minute, but we never ran out. I think that’s a major factor in how we were able to keep the number of our personnel that tested positive relatively low.
Battalion Chief Castillo insisted on recognizing the following personnel for their dedication to keeping our firefighters safe:
- Elizabeth Borunda, Supply and Maintenance
- Richard “Rick” Fernandez
- Captain Cesar Garcia
- Captain Abel Gomez
- Federico “Freddie” Gomez
- Adrian Guerra
- Captain Matt Laurin
- Captain Ruben Lopez
- Firefighter Mike Marquez
- Captain Matt Pedini
- Firefighter Dustin Sansone
- Captain Sean Saunders