FIREFIGHTERS OF THE MONTH
FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
RONALD TOMACRUZ, FIREFIGHTER/ENGINEER
FIRE STATION 80, LAX
It was Engineer Ronald Tomacruz’s first day at Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Fire Station 80, and he had just been cleared to drive the big rigs that are specially designed for serving the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
At about 3:50 A.M. on Wednesday, August 19, 2020, the Fire Station 80 crew received a call that FedEx Flight 1026, a Boeing 767, needed to make an emergency landing due to a malfunction with the landing gear.
Engineer Tomacruz and his fellow LAFD members were on the scene before the plane was expected to land, in position and ready to act fast.
The plane was able to land safely, save for sparks flying as it slid down the runway on its left side, where the landing gear had not deployed.
The FedEx incident was the largest the airport has seen since the 1990s, but Engineer Tomacruz knows firsthand the daily training that is required to be ready for the worst-case scenario. Fire Station 80 is a highly specialized fire station that exclusively serves LAX, the second busiest airport in the United States.
Engineer Tomacruz has a special Aircraft and Rescue Fire Fighters (ARFF) certification, which is required to even be employed at Fire Station 80 and to operate much of the technical equipment. The giant, green apparatus unique to Fire Station 80 are much larger than the average red fire engine. These rigs do not fit in a normal lane on the average roadway, so they never go offsite. Whether building and installing a new engine or changing the massive tires, all repairs must happen at the airport.
“It’s like going from driving a school bus your whole career to suddenly flying a plane,” Engineer Tomacruz said of his experience learning to drive the specialized rigs.
He is certainly no stranger to learning curves, reflected in his active role as an In-Service Training driving instructor. After promoting to Engineer in 2006, Tomacruz became an Employee Testing Program (ETP) member and has directly assisted in all aspects of LAFD firefighter driver training, from developing videos and virtual simulations to administering live driving exams.
Firefighters are required to obtain and maintain a California Class "B" or Firefighter's driver's license as a condition of employment, so any firefighters fresh off probation would recognize Engineer Tomacruz from the four training videos that they watch before their driving test.
In 2023, he completed more driving exams than any other ETP member, resulting in the program itself achieving the highest number of completed driving exams since its existence.
“I always wanted to try and give back in some way, and that’s how I got into teaching,” Engineer Tomacruz shared.
Engineer Tomacruz started his journey to become the first firefighter in his family “later in the game,” he says, at age 20. A neighbor from his high school years was an LAFD firefighter who steered him in the direction of the fire service.
He went through the LAFD Cadet program, secured his associate degree in fire science, and finished at the top of his Fire Academy class. Engineer Tomacruz was officially hired by the LAFD in 2001.
Before getting on at Fire Station 80, he worked for nine years at Fire Station 5 and did overtime at Fire Station 63. He vividly remembers the numerous brush fires that the crew would respond to, and even recalls getting smacked by Phos-Chek – the pink cloud of fire retardant that firefighters deploy from the sky – more than once.
“There’s a lot of stuff to learn on this job,” Engineer Tomacruz reflected, noting the differences between his day-to-day at Fire Station 5 versus Fire Station 80.
Engineer Tomacruz considers himself both a teacher and a lifelong student. He completed his bachelor’s degree in emergency management in just eight months while in his first year at Fire Station 80.
“What makes your career is the people you work with. I’m very fortunate to be able to work with great people,” Engineer Tomacruz expressed. For firefighters pursuing a career in the fire service, he encourages an open mind and willingness to take on the inevitable learning curves step by step.
“It’s all about the process. If you show initiative and put yourself out there, people will be there to support you and help you succeed.”
FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
DAVID HINOJOSA, FIREFIGHTER
FIRE STATION 14, SOUTH CENTRAL
Firefighter David Hinojosa, a first-generation U.S.-born citizen and firefighter, grew up in a rough area of Orange County and hails from a family of immigrants.
His mother migrated from Guatemala, put herself through 10 years of college, and worked as an emergency room (ER) nurse at the old Los Angeles County hospital. She knew she wanted her son to be like the kind and respectful firefighters that she connected with in the ER.
Some of Hinojosa’s earliest photos feature his childhood self in Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) firefighter turnout gear, and his first toy was a small red fire truck.
“I praise my mom for everything she went through with me and my older sister. She was tough on us, but she took care of us,” Hinojosa shared. Growing up in a community struggling against gang activity, he watched his friends go to jail, not graduate, and fall victim to violence. He was determined to change the narrative for himself.
In high school, Hinojosa occupied his time with football, track, and cross-country, but was most passionate about handball. He participated in local tournaments and would use the prize money for groceries and clothes to support his parents.
After graduating, he took fire technology college courses, working as an EMT and in the finance department of the ER where his mother worked to save up for the LAFD Training Academy.
Hinojosa graduated in the first COVID Academy class and was assigned to Fire Station 2 in Boyle Heights. “I was fortunate to be at 2’s. It was a very busy station and a lot of the guys had at least 15 to 20 years on,” he shared, which afforded him valuable perspective and experience early on.
Inspired by the strong work ethic of his father, who migrated from Mexico and worked construction and yard work to support his family, Hinojosa put in countless hours of overtime at Fire Station 14 in South Central during his probation. While on his second assignment at Fire Station 26 in West Adams, the Captain at Fire Station 14 was impressed with his dedication and invited him to take his next assignment there. Hinojosa completed probation and has been a firefighter at Fire Station 14 for over two years.
He was only two months on the job when his station was dispatched to the Boyd Street fire in Downtown Los Angeles, and his most recent significant fire shut down a portion of the 10 freeway, triggering a state of emergency. “You never know if this fire could be the one that you don’t walk away from,” he reflected, recalling the seconds just before he witnessed the explosion at the Boyd Street fire that triggered a fireball, injuring several LAFD firefighters.
Hinojosa is passionate about fighting fires, but his day-to-day mostly involves responding to calls involving people, and this aspect of giving back to the community is what Hinojosa values most. “There is a sense of fulfillment and a sense of responsibility, knowing that you sacrifice a part of your life every day to save someone else’s life. That is something I can live with and die for.”
He enjoys talking with the people he serves, offering encouragement and resources whenever possible. He is also bilingual, which has helped bridge communication gaps between firefighters and Spanish speakers.
Hinojosa has made a significant impact during his brief time on the job. He brings a “community-first” lens with him to all aspects of his work because he wants a better world for himself, and children like him. The teachers who supported him through school invite him back often to speak to their students, allowing him to share his story and inspire the next generation of youth to break the cycle of violence in their communities.
Unbeknownst to Hinojosa when he was playing in high school, handball is a long-standing LAFD tradition. Whether fighting fires, responding to a call for help, or inviting community youth to play at the station, Hinojosa employs handball tactics daily. The quick game requires fast reflexes, but also a keen sense of strategy.
“Training is so crucial because you don’t have time to go through every individual step in your head,” Hinojosa shared. “With training and practice, you understand what to do and how to respond quickly.”
Hinojosa’s story exemplifies what is possible when preparation meets opportunity. He humbly acknowledges that he has a lot more to learn and plenty more experience to gain, but one thing is for sure – Hinojosa would not trade his career as an LAFD firefighter for any other job.
He challenges the students that he speaks to with this question: “Why waste life not doing something for someone else?”
FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
MATTHEW DAVIS, FIREFIGHTER/PARAMEDIC
FIRE STATION 50, ATWATER VILLAGE
At the heart of Fire Station 50, nestled in Atwater Village, resides Matthew Davis - a firefighter paramedic with over 17 years of service under his belt. Davis' journey, from a childhood dream to becoming a member of the Los Angeles Fire Department, is a testament to his dedication and impact.
Davis’ path was set early when the local fire department paid a visit to his elementary school as part of a community outreach program. The experience left a lasting impression and spurred him to pursue a career in firefighting.
Hailing from Utah, Davis' transition to the bustling streets of Los Angeles in 2006 was a significant milestone. Having grown up in Salt Lake City, Davis has maintained strong ties to his home state while embracing the vibrant atmosphere of Los Angeles.
His journey is also one of balance. While serving his community as a firefighter, he seamlessly manages to prioritize his family. “The most rewarding aspect of my job is that I have the ability to serve the public on their toughest days, providing comfort and care in moments of crisis. Beyond the intrinsic satisfaction of fulfilling a childhood dream, I also acknowledge the stability and support my career offers my family, which I am truly grateful for.”
A commitment to continuous learning drove Davis to expand his firefighting duties and become a paramedic. He pursued further education through the Daniel Freeman UCLA program, an experience that has not only enriched his ability to serve but also benefited his personal endeavors.
At Fire Station 50, Davis' role as a paramedic brings a unique dimension to his career. He is involved in both firefighting and EMS activities, which allows him to constantly adapt and grow in his profession. “The most thrilling aspect of his job is the unpredictability,” Davis shared. “Whether it's a fire or an EMS call, the uncertainty of what lies ahead keeps me engaged and ready to face any challenge that comes my way.”
Davis emphasized the collaborative effort of firefighters and paramedics across different stations. Their dedication to stepping in where needed reflects their commitment to the community's safety.
"For those aspiring to join the fire department, seize the opportunity,” Davis shared. “I encourage anyone interested in becoming a firefighter to explore their local fire stations, learn about the responsibilities, and understand the commitment required to excel.”
Members like Matthew Davis stand as beacons of service in a world where every day brings new challenges and uncertainties. His story is an inspiration to aspiring firefighters and a reminder of the unwavering commitment of those who safeguard our communities.
FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
OMAR VELASQUEZ, FIREFIGHTER/PARAMEDIC
FIRE STATION 25, BOYLE HEIGHTS
In the bustling neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, Fire Station 25 stands as a beacon of hope and assistance for the local community. Among the dedicated team of first responders at this station is Omar Velasquez, a firefighter paramedic whose journey into the world of firefighting began in February 2003. With 20 years of experience under his belt, Velasquez’s commitment to serving his community and his passion for his role continue to inspire both his colleagues and those he assists.
Velasquez's inspiration to become a firefighter was sparked during his childhood. The sight of fire trucks with their flashing lights left an indelible mark on his young mind. As he progressed through junior high and high school, his fascination with the fire department grew. The culmination of this interest came when he joined the LAFD Explorer Program while in the ninth grade. This program, which has since evolved into the LAFD Cadet Program, provided Velasquez with a hands-on introduction to the world of firefighting. From the age of 14, he embarked on a journey that would eventually lead him to his current position.
For Velasquez, the motivation to serve as a firefighter stems from his deep connection to the city of Los Angeles. "I was not only born and raised in LA, but I also continue to call it my home. The deeply fulfilling aspect is that I can make a positive impact on the very community that nurtured me throughout my upbringing and where I still reside.” Velasquez's aspiration to work on the medical side of the firefighting profession led him to become a paramedic. He pursued the necessary education and training, to make his dream a reality.
Velasquez's commitment to giving back extends beyond his daily duties. Having been a part of the LAFD Explorer Program and subsequently serving as an advisor, he has guided numerous young individuals on the path to becoming firefighters. "It's truly rewarding to witness the young adults I’ve mentored becoming members of the LAFD. Even those who didn't find a place within the LAFD have gone on to serve in other public safety roles, demonstrating the far-reaching impact the cadet program has on individuals.”
Outside of the fire station, Velasquez enjoys a range of hobbies that balance his demanding profession. Fishing, drawing, basketball, and soccer are among his favorite pastimes. Yet, his greatest joy comes from spending time with his family. With a teenage daughter and a younger son, Velasquez treasures moments of togetherness and enjoys the opportunity to travel with his loved ones.
As Velasquez marks 20 years of dedicated service within the fire department, his journey continues to inspire both his colleagues and the community he serves. His story is a testament to the profound impact that individuals can have when they follow their passions and channel their energy into making a difference in the lives of others.
FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
SEAN WILLIAMS, FIREFIGHTER/ENGINEER
FIRE STATION 24, SHADOW HILLS
Meet Engineer Sean Williams, a dedicated and seasoned firefighter whose illustrious career spans 32 years and is currently stationed at Fire Station 24, which serves the community of Shadow Hills in Los Angeles, CA.
From a young age, Williams knew he wanted to be a firefighter. His fascination with firetrucks and a love for the outdoors set the stage for his future career. As an active and athletic individual who enjoyed sports, BMX biking, and hiking, firefighting's outdoor nature perfectly aligned with his personality. However, it was his innate desire to help others that truly sealed the deal. Williams recognized firefighting as a perfect fit for combining his passion for the outdoors and his inclination to assist those in need.
Williams always envisioned himself as an engineer within the LAFD. "I've always admired the engineers that came before me. They always seemed to be very sharp, dedicated to their work, and possess another level of knowledge of the fire service. They were able to teach that and pass that along to me and I admired that. I wanted to emulate that.”
As an engineer, Williams saw himself as the crew's quarterback, responsible for the tools and equipment on the fire engine. He took this responsibility to heart, recognizing that keeping the fire engine in optimal condition was crucial for serving the citizens effectively. For Williams, becoming an engineer was not just about technical expertise, but also about serving the community to the best of his abilities.
His motivation to serve as a firefighter is deeply rooted in his family. While he chose this noble profession before starting a family, his children have become a constant source of inspiration for him. Sean's two children have graduated from prestigious universities, with his daughter obtaining a master's of public health degree in epidemiology from UCLA and his son earning a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from UC Davis. As a role model, Sean has instilled in them the importance of loving what you do for a living and serving others.
Williams identifies working with his team as the most rewarding aspect of being a firefighter. The camaraderie, teamwork, and shared dedication among his crew members create an environment where they can achieve remarkable things together. “There's a lot of cliches you can say like 'teamwork makes the dream work,' but it really does. We feel good working with each other, we really have a good time together."
When not donning his firefighting gear, Sean enjoys a variety of activities. Golfing, bike riding, and taking walks with his wife and their dog allow him to unwind and appreciate the simple pleasures of life. He also shares a love for traveling and attending Dodger games.
Williams has begun thinking about his post-retirement plans. "My wife and I have given ourselves a quest when I retire, and that quest is to visit every professional baseball stadium in America," he said.
Williams’ journey serves as an inspiration for aspiring firefighters by emphasizing the importance of finding fulfillment in one's work and embracing the opportunity to positively impact others' lives.
FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
OSCAR CESPEDES, FIREFIGHTER/EIT
FIRE STATION 98, VALLEY BUREAU
“This organization has given so much to me. I’m humbled by this honor.”
Oscar Cespedes knew from an early age that he wanted to be a firefighter. His father raised him to focus on helping others and be a productive member of the community. Oscar remembers watching footage of firefighters from the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) charging into dangerous situations on the news. “As a firefighter, you had to be a jack-of-all-trades.”
A family friend, Engineer Pedro Alonzo (retired LAFD), nurtured Oscar’s interest in pursuing a career in public safety. “[Pedro] gave me his old turnout gear and encouraged me to join the [LAFD] Explorer Program. I actually ended up right here, at Fire Station 98.”
Oscar’s father encouraged him to pursue this passion, and soon he was on his way to becoming a firefighter. “There were a lot of departments hiring, but I knew it had to be the LAFD. It is the best fire department in the world, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Now, 21 years after first donning the uniform, Oscar has trained as an Emergency Incident Technician and serves as the Chief’s Adjutant for Battalion 12. “It’s an important and challenging role. When someone hits that ‘mayday,’ we’re the safety net.” Working as an EIT means supporting an incident from a macro perspective, tracking the movement of individual firefighters through the chaos and confusion of any operation. “It’s command and control, keeping things organized, managing resources, and coming up with plans in case things go sideways.”
Oscar attributes his success as the Chief’s Adjutant to his daughter Brooke. “When she came into my life, it changed everything. I knew I would do anything to take care of her, and that meant taking better care of myself too. It meant approaching my job with more maturity and care. In this position, that [mindset] is how you keep everyone else safe.”
Captain Steve Lopez pushed for Oscar’s recognition. “He’s not just a great firefighter. He’s a great person. One of the best people I’ve worked with.” Captain Gregory Galvez of fire station 98 agrees. “Firefighter Cespedes works hard and looks after you. A great guy to have on the team.”
In the future, Oscar aims to continue his career with the LAFD. “When I was younger, playing sports or in martial arts, I always sought out leadership roles. I was a peer trainer at the Drill Tower, and throughout my career I’ve looked for ways to keep learning and training. No matter where I am, my goal is the same: I want to make sure that when I leave, I made things better for you.”
Oscar remains humbled by being named Firefighter of the Month. “I mean, it’s these guys [gestures toward the fire station] doing the hard work. They deserve this. Everyone deserves recognition.” He expresses continued gratitude for his time with the LAFD and looks forward to the future. “In the LAFD, one person can be a solution. Someone you can rely on.”
FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
FIREFIGHTER DANIEL NAKAMURA
FIRE STATION 33, SOUTH BUREAU
“In moments of crisis, I want to be there.”
Firefighter Daniel Nakamura heard the call toward a life of service at an early age. Born in Pomona, his mother’s family served in law enforcement and his father was a pastor. Each day brought new lessons about helping the community, selflessness, and responsibility.
As an Eagle Scout, Daniel lived the motto of “Do a good turn daily.” While he seemed destined to follow in one of his parents’ footsteps, he always wondered what path would be right for him. At church, one of the congregants was a captain in the fire department, and his stories inspired Daniel. When he neared the end of high school and started to plan his future, he saw three paths ahead: law enforcement, the military…and the fire department.
Yet of these choices, only one seemed to fit just right. “I wanted to give back to the community in times of need. To provide assistance to anyone, whether they were right or wrong.”
Before making his decision, Daniel attended school and learned how to perform as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). While in college, he met the woman that would become, in his words, “my WAY better half.” With his life coming together, only one part was missing: a career.
Daniel Joined the Los Angeles Fire Department in 2017, finishing out his probationary period in 2018. He soon found himself working out of Fire Station 33, supporting “Fire City.” This busy station earned its nickname with constant, chaotic calls. Daniel found it to be a deeply satisfying experience. “It’s different when the responsibility is on your shoulders. We’re held to a high standard. We have to bring our best to the community.”
Captain II Robert Barna of Fire Station 33 sees Daniel as “someone who brings people together. He organized a family day [at the station] on his own.” On the job, Captain Barna sees Daniel as “operating at the highest level of professionalism.”
Daniel’s motto after each call is “What could we have done better?” He constantly seeks to improve, to support, and that drive has led him on his next major path: To become a chaplain within the LAFD. “My faith is my foundation. I wouldn’t be the man I am without God’s grace.” Once he completes his training, Daniel will be called to provide a “ministry of presence” on especially difficult calls. He will lend his strength and support to the men and women of his departmental family.
Captain II Brian Wall, Daniel’s former supervisor, was thrilled to learn of his nomination. “[Daniel] is one of the most selfless people you will meet. He would do anything for anyone, anytime. His strong faith in God has genuinely shaped this family man into a role model for all of us. Having Daniel as one of my team members, firefighters, and friends was a privilege. He can often provide grounding and clarity to all around him. You will always make the right decision after consulting with Daniel.”
Daniel felt his nomination was only possible due to the love and support of his wife Desiree. “If I’m the Firefighter of the Month, she is the Wife of the Lifetime!” With 2 boys and a third on the way, Desiree and Daniel celebrate their blessings and look forward to the future.
FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
BRIAN LABRIE, APPARATUS OPERATOR
FIRE STATION 3, LOS ANGELES
“It was a childhood dream.” Growing up in Montana, Brian LaBrie knew that his path led to the fire department. “My father and grandfather were volunteer firefighters. I was surrounded by this my whole life. It’s where I wanted to be.” Thirty-three years since joining the department, Brian has made a name as a hard worker, a dedicated colleague, and a disciplined trainer.
“Apparatus Operator (AO) Brian LaBrie is easily one of the hardest workers in our 3500+ member department.” Captain II Shaun Gath works with Brian at Fire Station 3, serving a dense 1.8 square mile area of downtown Los Angeles. Brian's vast skill set is put to work every day on Heavy Rescue 3, a 50-ton wrecker/recovery vehicle which is the only one of its kind on the LAFD.”
Heavy Rescue 3 is an imposing apparatus, towering over the other engines in the motor pool. With incredible lifting capabilities, it is a vital part of rescue operations in Los Angeles. As a leader of the Heavy Rescue team, Brian is responsible for training new members, equipment operation, and safety. “We’ve had service trucks roll over another car, cement trucks crashing into commercial vehicles.” The success of the Heavy Rescue team has inspired Orange County and even Ontario, Canada to launch their own programs.
Brian is one of the founding members of the LAFD Swift Water Team, a program that is just reaching the thirty-year mark. In coordination with dozens of local and federal organizations—including the Army Corps of Engineers—the Swift Water Team conducts rescue operations around the flood control channels and waterways of the city. Brian worked alongside the original 28 organizations to develop standards and practices that are still used to this day.
In addition to his work in the department’s Urban Search and Rescue and FEMA’s California Task Force 1 (CATF-1), Brian was the department’s logistics chief during the COVID-19 crisis. He oversaw the establishment and operation of one of the largest testing facilities in the country. Under his guidance, the department tested over 4 million people in just two years.
Captain Gath considers Brian's work to have been instrumental. “He was responsible for logistics at every department test site, vaccination site, and every COVID-focused operation that the City of Los Angeles undertook. The City of LA and the LAFD would not have been as successful in their COVID response without Brian and his tireless efforts.”
When he’s not working or training at Fire Station 3, Brian loves to spend time with his two children: Cameron (24) and Jacob (19).
Brian is a strong believer in the power of training, and he encourages the younger generation of LAFD firefighters to always be open to learning. “People lose motivation when they stop learning. And teaching is the biggest thing [to keep people motivated.]”
FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
SHAUNNA PURKEY, FIREFIGHTER III
FS 21, SOUTH LOS ANGELES
Firefighter Shaunna Purkey is a proud member of the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), serving the residents of South Los Angeles from Fire Station 21. Purkey comes from a long line of firefighters, as her maternal grandfather was a volunteer firefighter. Before joining the LAFD, Purkey was a physical education teacher for elementary students with special needs in Rosamond, CA. In addition to her passion for teaching, she was also a collegiate softball player and a high school softball coach.
Her journey to become a firefighter began when one of her softball coaches, who was also a captain in the Kern County Fire Department, encouraged her to apply. Purkey visited his fire station and was immediately drawn to the fast-paced environment, team spirit, and comradery. She left her teaching and coaching career behind, but her desire to help young people never faded.
Purkey joined the LAFD in 2019 and less than a year after completing her rookie probationary period, she was named the Cadet Post Advisor at Fire Station 21. The Cadet Program allows teens and young adults to shadow and train alongside firefighters. This vital community program helps participants develop confidence, teamwork, and life skills to succeed in their future endeavors. It also doubles as an invaluable recruiting pipeline by cultivating future generations of LAFD firefighters.
Since September 2022, Purkey has held weekly training sessions for her cadre of cadets. Coincidentally, all the members of her group are young ladies from neighboring communities. Purkey blends the LAFD curriculum with lessons from her experience as a teacher and athlete to address real-world challenges and life skills. “Not all of them will pursue a career with the LAFD. But they’re learning incredible life skills alongside my fellow crew members and me,” shared Purkey. Thanks to this program, no matter what path these girls pursue, they’ll have great friends and mentors behind them.”
Firefighter Purkey’s dedication to her station and Cadet Post duties illustrate how even new department members can have an immediate and lasting impact. “Although I’m still learning and finding my stride, I’m committed to this cause 100%. My motto is you may see me struggle, but you will never see me quit.”
In her free time, Purkey enjoys a diverse range of hobbies, including learning the piano, hiking, backpacking, and dirt bike riding. She is also a semi-professional motocross racer, competing with the Women's Motocross Association. Her dedication to both her work and her passions truly sets her apart as a role model for all.