JULY 2021 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
STEVEN MARCZINKO, FIREFIGHTER/PARAMEDIC
METROPOLITAN FIRE COMMUNICATIONS, DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES
Firefighter Paramedic Steven Marczinko is a 911 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Metropolitan Fire Communications, more commonly referred to as “Metro” or “MFC." Marczinko and his fellow dispatchers are responsible for processing the nearly 3,000 emergency calls that pour into Metro every 24 hours.
The dispatchers assigned to MFC are either Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) or Firefighter/Paramedics like Marczinko, who have previously served in the field. Marczinko is a 14-year veteran of the Department. He has held his current role for close to seven years.
Those in Los Angeles who have the duty or unfortunate circumstance of having to dial 911 are routed to someone like Marczinko, whose job is to quickly deduce the nature of the caller’s emergency and help mobilize the appropriate LAFD resources. Without a doubt, it is one of the most complex and challenging roles within the Department. Lives are literally on the line when Marczinko answers a call.
Each time a call comes in, Marczinko and his fellow dispatchers follow a strict formula. His goal is to get as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time. The task is rarely easy, and no two calls are quite the same. Callers are often frantic, frightened, ill, injured, or some combination thereof. Due to L.A.’s widely diverse population, language barriers are also a frequent challenge.
“As soon as I get on the line, the caller’s first instinct is to ask for help and begin telling you what’s wrong,” explained Marczinko. “There’s usually some degree of urgency, desperation, or fear. I try to calm them down a bit and get them to focus on the important details, like the address of the emergency. The first thing we need to figure out is where the help is needed.”
After determining the incident address or getting as much locational information as possible, Marczinko proceeds to ask about the type of emergency, how many people need help, what was the cause, is there still a risk to others nearby, and so on. The info Marczinko gathers is input into a program that calculates what resources are needed and notifies the nearest available station or field unit. “As soon as we get the basics – where, who, why – our resources can hit the road,” said Marczinko. “We can usually get our crew there before the 911 call is over.”
Close to 85% of the LAFD’s 911 calls are for medical emergencies. Luckily, Marczinko and his colleagues are all trained medical professionals. Their experience in the field helped prepare them for the barrage of medical calls they handle each day, albeit from a distance. “We go through so much training to become a paramedic, to be able to apply our knowledge and skills to help people,” shared Marczinko. “I had no idea that my years as a firefighter and paramedic were actually training me to become a dispatcher.”
Marczinko loved working as an LAFD paramedic. However, several years ago, he was in a severe accident that left him with a spinal injury. Marczinko was in the back of an ambulance while transporting a patient to the hospital when they were t-boned at an intersection. Although strong enough to resume his duties after months of rehabilitation, Marczinko laments that he was “never quite right after the accident.”
According to Marczinko, the toughest part of working dispatch is coaxing the necessary information from callers in a state of panic. The most complicated calls, he said, are the medical emergencies involving multiple patients. “In the field, we take for granted how much we actually rely on our senses,” explained Marczinko. “Once I joined MFC, I quickly realized how much we depend on sight to process information and make decisions. As a dispatcher, listening becomes our greatest strength, especially when we are relying on the caller to communicate what is happening. We have to listen for specific cues, lead the caller with concise questions, and in some cases, provide the caller with life-saving instructions.”
Surprisingly, children are the most adept at answering his questions and following instructions, according to Marczinko. “For the most part, kids do a great job when they’re calling in an emergency. They may not have all the specifics or have the benefit of an adult vocabulary, but they do a remarkable job relaying the basics so we can get help there as quickly as possible.”
Although Marczinko has handled countless calls over the years, one particular call holds a special place in his heart. About a month into his MFC position, Marczinko fielded a call from a young girl around ten years old. The child dialed 911 because her grandmother had “passed out.” The little girl was able to communicate that grandma was in cardiac arrest. She did not know her grandmother’s street address, but Marczinko instructed her to run outside to find the nearest street markers. Next, Marczinko coached the young girl on how to perform chest compressions on her grandmother. When paramedics arrived at the house, they found the girl on the line with Marczinko as she was performing CPR. “She was just incredible,” recalls Marczinko. “She saved her grandmother’s life.”
A Southern California native and son of a Los Angeles Police Department officer, Marczinko credits his father for inspiring him to pursue a career in public safety. He now resides in Eastvale, CA, with his wife and black lab, “Dino.” Off the clock, Marczinko enjoys boating at Lake Havasu and off-roading in the desert.
JUNE 2021 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
DOUG VAN NORDEN, FIREFIGHTER III
FIRE STATION 3, DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES
“Always wear your seatbelt,” says the man responsible for cutting crash victims free from car wreckage. Firefighter III Doug Van Norden is one of six “Swampers” entrusted with operating the Los Angeles Fire Department’s (LAFD) Heavy Rescue apparatus.
The Heavy Rescue, essentially a giant-sized tow truck, is a one-of-a-kind behemoth fondly referred to as “the Hook.” Van Norden and his fellow Swampers use this apparatus in a wide variety of life hazard situations, including righting overturned big rigs, separating crushed vehicles, pulling vehicles from the river or wash, and lifting heavy objects. Swampers also moonlight as emergency tire repair specialists for LAFD apparatus after normal business hours.
In addition to the winches, cables, chains, and cache of lifting equipment, the Heavy Rescue is also outfitted with industrial-grade chainsaws, drills, cutters, spreaders, airbags, and rams. "They call it the Heavy Rescue because everything on it is so darn heavy," joked Van Norden.
Although Swampers see fewer daily calls than the rest of their firefighter counterparts, the emergencies they respond to tend to be of a more severe and shocking nature. "We don't get called out to your average fender benders," explained Van Norden. "The Heavy Rescue rolls out when there are serious life hazards involved, and our team needs some extra resources."
"The majority of our calls are vehicle extractions when every minute counts. That could mean a car wedged under a big rig, an SUV that's gone over the side of the freeway, or a nasty vehicle rollover. But we also see our fair share of construction accidents and physical limb extractions," said Van Norden.
Becoming a Swamper is no easy feat. On top of earning a Class A driver's license, Van Norden also underwent close to a year of specialty training to master the ins and outs of operating the Heavy Rescue. If you ask Van Norden, he tells you it was totally worth it.
“I love it. This has to be one of the coolest jobs in the entire Department,” shared Van Norden. “Every day is different. Since we’re responsible for covering the entire city, we may go from Downtown to the harbor, up to the foothills, and then over to the East Side, all in a single day.”
Van Norden joined the LAFD in 2009 after eight years of service in the Marine Corps, which included multiple deployments to Iraq and the Persian Gulf. In addition to his Heavy Rescue duties, he is also a member of the LAFD Urban Search and Rescue crew, the Swift Water Rescue team, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) California Task Force 1, and the bike medic team.
The Mississippi native now resides in La Habra Heights with his wife and two children. Off the clock, Van Norden enjoys working on his house and road-tripping with the family.
“Firefighter Van Norden is the hardest working guy here,” remarked Captain Tim Roarty of Fire Station 3. "He's been on the job for over a decade but never stopped running around like a rookie. His attitude and work ethic are outstanding. This honor is well deserved.”
MAY 2021 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
LINSAY PELLEGRINI, INSPECTOR I
FIRE PREVENTION BUREAU, VALLEY PUBLIC SAFETY
Linsay Pellegrini is an Inspector with the LAFD’s Fire Prevention Bureau, handling public safety for institutions such as hospitals, convalescent homes, assisted living facilities, and jails in the Western San Fernando Valley.
More specifically, Pellegrini is responsible for evaluating the safety conditions at any facility where people who cannot care for themselves might live for more than 24 hours.
Inspector Pellegrini’s top priorities are making sure that the employees, residents, and visitors at these facilities are as safe as possible. This includes checking to ensure fire protection systems are functional (such as sprinklers, lights, and alarms), and evaluating access to emergency exits so that occupants can evacuate safely in an emergency.
Arguably, her most important responsibility is forecasting and mitigating potential risks for fellow firefighters. Pellegrini has to be able to spot safety threats that may arise if/when firefighters are called to a site for any variety of reasons. For example, any chemicals housed on-site must be labeled, stored, and documented accordingly so that in the event of a fire, the responding engine companies know what types of hazards they might encounter.
The lion’s share of Pellegrini’s workload relates to the hundreds of residential care facilities across the Valley. These are non–medical facilities that provide rooms, meals, housekeeping, supervision, storage and distribution of medication, and personal care assistance, typically for elderly patients.
“I’ve been in this role for close to five years. The list of facilities to inspect is never-ending,” expressed Inspector Pellegrini. “Between following-up on leads from local fire stations and walking every square foot at these facilities, it is an endless sea of safety concerns.”
These facilities with six or fewer beds, usually located in residential neighborhoods, are intended to provide less institutional care than more extensive facilities like convalescent homes and hospitals. Pellegrini estimates that close to 75% of her time is consumed tending to these types of facilities.
Common violations include blocked exits, doors that do not function properly, improper storage, and locked doors. “The blocked emergency exits are a big concern. Understandably, these facilities want to stop transients from entering or prevent patients with memory loss from eloping, but we constantly need to reinforce why these exits need to remain clear – it is for everyone’s safety,” explained Pellegrini.
Pellegrini has been a member of the LAFD for 18 years. She joined the Department because of her desire to become a paramedic. The one-on-one of helping patients was what she enjoyed most during her days at the fire station.
After nearly ten years in the field, Pellegrini’s career shifted when she became a mom. ‘It is definitely very different than working on an ambulance, but I enjoy it,” shared Pellegrini. “Working in the Bureau gives me the feeling that I’m still helping people, granted on a broader scale. I feel a sense of responsibility to help our fire stations from a different vantage point.”
When Pellegrini is not busy holding down one of the most technical and taxing roles in the Department, she moonlights as a super mom to her son and daughter. She also draws some uncanny comparisons to parenting and firefighting. “I think managing stress and sleep deprivation are aspects that definitely cross over to being a parent,” joked Pellegrini.
“Hobbies? Who has time for hobbies?!” exclaimed Pellegrini. “My kids are my life and my hobby. I literally have no time for myself,” she said laughingly. “But it’s totally worth it. I don’t want my daughter or any young woman to think that they have to sacrifice family life for their career. When you love what you do, you find a way to make it work.”
Pellegrini is married to LAFD Captain Nick Pellegrini, who is assigned to Station 75 in Mission Hills. “We make a good team,” shared the Inspector. “It’s fair to say that as a mom, I take the lead with the kids, but on the days that I have inspections, Nick holds down the fort with academics and extracurriculars.”
In typical firefighter fashion, Pellegrini showed her LAFD spirit and competitive nature when explaining her home dynamic. “Sometimes people are surprised to learn that our kids have two parents that are firefighters. But once you get to know us, we’re just like most other families…The difference is, I might be an Inspector at work, but at home, everyone knows I’m the B.C. (Battalion Chief).”
APRIL 2021 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
KRISHAN VADUKUL, FIREFIGHTER PARAMEDIC
TACTICAL EMERGENCY MEDICAL SUPPORT
Krishan Vadukul is not your average paramedic. He is one of only eight LAFD Tactical Emergency Medical Support (TEMS) unit members. Vadukul and his colleagues assist partner agencies such as the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in dangerous situations.
TEMS members undergo rigorous tactical SWAT training to handle high-pressure incidents like barricaded suspects, hostage situations, and active-shooter scenarios. Krishan and his teammates are entrusted with supporting other first responders near the hot zone, often near gunfire and other hazardous conditions.
Instead of working 24-hour platoon shifts with their firefighter brethren, TEMS members operate on a 4-10 work schedule (four days, ten hours per day) comparable to their law enforcement counterparts. In addition to riding out on planned events (i.e., serving warrants), Vadukul and his team respond to 2-3 spontaneous events each week. In between high-risk incidents and ongoing training, TEMS members bolster the LAFD Fast Response Vehicle (FRV) program.
The firefighter/paramedics assigned to the FRV program have special clearance from the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services to medically clear certain patients. Krishan and his partner can treat patients experiencing acute behavioral crises or chronic public inebriation and arrange transport to either a Mental Health Urgent Care Center or Sobering Center rather than a traditional hospital emergency room.
"We're kind of like the LAFD's multi-tool. The FRV versatility allows us to run interference for fire and EMS calls in busy districts," explained Vadukul. "We can also attach ourselves to structure fire responses or break-away to extinguish small rubbish fires. Since it is just two of us per FRV, we're always ready to go at a moment's notice when a call comes in from law enforcement."
Vadukul has been a TEMS member for a little over a year. So far, he has loved every minute of it. "Every day is different. Between our typical LAFD responsibilities and working alongside law enforcement, the action is non-stop. Going from a narcotics overdose to a structure fire, and then to a barricaded suspect call, there are some days where it feels like your adrenaline never stops pumping."
As if here were not busy enough with TEMS and FRV duties, Krishan also serves as a base camp manager at the Dodger Stadium vaccination site. In fact, Vadukul has spent nearly as much time on the blacktop at Dodger Stadium as he has a tactical paramedic. "It's a bummer that this pandemic has dragged on for over a year, but I don't mind much. Whether I'm helping at the vaccine site or riding out to a medical emergency, I see it as my opportunity to help someone. You never know what the day might throw your way. That's part of what makes being a firefighter the greatest job ever."
Vadukul is a Southern California native who loves traveling to beachy destinations and learning about other cultures. He and his wife are currently expecting their first child.
MARCH 2021 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
BRIAN QUINN, INSPECTOR
FIRE PREVENTION BUREAU
“I certainly get my exercise if I don’t take the elevators,” joked Inspector Brian Quinn. “Most of the time, the management or building engineers aren’t too thrilled with the idea of avoiding the elevators, since they are generally tasked with accompanying me during an inspection.”
Quinn is in his fifth year as an inspector with the LAFD’s Fire Prevention Bureau, and two years into his current assignment with the High Rise Unit. Quinn is one of just a handful of inspectors responsible for covering the hundreds of buildings across Los Angeles with seven or more floors.
His job involves working with engineers, contractors, and building managers to ensure high-rise buildings are adhering to fire codes. Each day, he conducts walkthroughs at various buildings from the Mid-Wilshire district, to LAX, and all the way down to the harbor. His purpose is to search for potential life hazards, fire risks, and other inhibitors that could potentially affect how a building’s occupants would evacuate in the event of an emergency.
“Sometimes we’re seen as nitpickers, and it's understandable. Our job is literally to walk through every square foot of a building and point out potential problems,” explained Quinn. “I get that, so I try to paint a picture for my hosts using real-life examples of how and why the fire codes help save lives and property.”
Quinn’s top responsibility is ensuring every high rise under his jurisdiction is inspected annually, including confirming its fire protection equipment and systems (sprinklers, alarms, fire extinguishers, etc.) are in working order.
“Most building owners and managers see the importance in what we’re trying to accomplish. Every now and then, you encounter someone that needs a little bit of extra motivation to get up to code,” shared Quinn. “Instead of jumping straight to the enforcement steps, I try to strike a balance with encouragement and education. Yes, keeping up to code can be costly, but there is nothing more valuable than protecting the lives of your tenants and occupants.”
Thanks to Quinn’s years as a firefighter/paramedic, he has a wealth of knowledge and incident experience to draw upon to help educate his audience. Quinn has been a member of the LAFD for a little over 20 years.
Prior to joining the Fire Prevention Bureau, Brian was assigned to Fire Station 43 in Palms, on the Westside of Los Angeles. “My current role is far different from working at a fire station,” explained Quinn. “I don’t get the same tangible chance to make a difference like I would if I were responding to a fire or a medical emergency. However, this role is still extremely fulfilling, knowing that if I and my colleagues weren’t out there conducting these inspections, there’s a high probability L.A. would see a lot more life hazards.”
“Inspector Quinn is exceptionally organized and detail-oriented. He has impeccable follow-through and professionalism,” shared Captain Ryon Jones, of the Fire Prevention Bureau’s Legal Unit. “In a role that is all about rules and regulations, Inspector Quinn does a remarkable job making his findings relatable. He truly cares about making a difference at every building he inspects, and the quality of his work reflects this.”
Inspector Quinn is a husband, and father of two. Off duty, you are likely to find him outdoors, at the beach, or on a hiking trail taking full advantage of L.A.’s weather.
FEBRUARY 2021 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
AFARA LALAIND, FIREFIGHTER | PARAMEDIC
COVID DIVISION/FIRE STATION 65
After nearly a year, the life-threatening effects of the pandemic continue to be disproportionately felt throughout L.A.’s underserved communities. Firefighter/Paramedic Afara Lalaind is at the forefront of combating this trend. Lalaind is technically assigned to Fire Station 65 in Watts, but for the past year, she has been detailed to the LAFD’s COVID Division.
From March of 2020 through December, she was an integral part of the LAFD’s mobile testing team, working in some of L.A.’s hardest-hit communities. During the holiday season, she switched over to a special assignment – helping to administer the vaccine to the city’s dependent and homebound population, comprised mainly of elderly and disabled persons without access to vaccine sites.
Similar to the mobile testing program, Lalaind and her teammates identify communities with high infection rates, and work to establish a way to curb the spread. In some cases, that means establishing a “pop-up” site with outreach and transportation services provided by other community partners. In other cases, it means taking the operation directly to local Housing and Urban Development sites.
“We vaccinated 42 seniors on our first day of the pilot program,” explained Lalaind. “These are Phase 1 folks that otherwise would not have access to the vaccine. It may not seem like much, but every day, we hope to see our progress grow. The goal is to help vaccinate 73,000 individuals.”
Lalaind is a Bay Area native who grew up dedicating her time to community causes like volunteering at homeless shelters, food banks, and the local women’s shelter. After taking an introduction to fire service class in college, Afara was certain she had found her calling. She credits her college instructor, and her older sister, who at the time was a member of the San Jose Fire Department, with guiding her journey.
Joining the LAFD is a testament to Afara’s perseverance and relentless work ethic. After nearly three dozen applications to 15 different agencies, Lalaind landed her dream job. It took eight years for the single mother of three to make it. That was in 2016, and she claims she is just getting started.
“I never doubted myself. I knew this was what I wanted and it was only a matter of time and effort,” expressed Lalaind. “I committed to becoming a firefighter - for myself, and for my kids. There were definitely some challenging times, but I knew I needed to see this through to send the right message and set an example for my children.”
According to Battalion Chief Kris Larson, COVID Testing Section Commander, Afara’s hard work continues to make a remarkable impact. “Firefighter/Paramedic Lalaind is a tremendous asset to this [COVID] Division, and to our entire Department,” shared Chief Larson. “Her sound judgment, professionalism, and unmistakable passion for helping others are why she is ideally suited to help guide the vaccination outreach process for our at-risk communities. We are fortunate to have her on the team, and she is most deserving of receiving Firefighter of the Month.”
Lalaind dedicates what little free time she has towards her children and family. She looks forward to rounding the curve on the pandemic so she can resume her carpentry and woodworking hobbies. Before COVID struck, Afara could most likely be found in her woodshop or making renovations to her new home. “I had to shelve most of my projects because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to fight the pandemic, be a mom, and rebuild my fireplace mantle,” joked Lalaind.
JANUARY 2021 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH
RANDALL YSLAS, CAPTAIN II
FIRE STATION 48
“It’s time. I’m ready to ride off into the sunset,” teased Captain II Randall Yslas. After 34 years of dedicated service with the LAFD, Captain Yslas is retiring. Yslas has spent the last six years as the Task Force Commander assigned to Fire Station 48 in San Pedro, just blocks away from the busiest seaport in the U.S.
In addition to the typical fires and medical emergencies seen all over the city, Fire Station 48 also responds to a myriad of maritime-related emergencies – like daring water and cliff rescues, tending to injured cruise ship passengers, and even wharf fires fed by volatile boat fuels.
Over the course of the past three decades, Yslas humbly joked that he’s seen just about every type of incident, no matter how severe, obscure, or infrequent. The harbor was the last area Yslas hoped to check off on his list. After half a dozen years at Station 48, he believes he’s left his mark and is ready to transition into life as a civilian.
“I became a firefighter shortly after graduating from high school,” shared Captain Yslas. “I knew I wanted a job where I would help others and be of service. After 34 years with the LAFD, I feel like I’ve followed through on my commitment. I’m glad as I was able to help save a few lives, and hopefully I was able to impart some of my experience on those around me.”
The Firefighter of the Month award is rarely bestowed upon retiring members. However, as word of Captain Yslas’ retirement spread, his fellow firefighters turned out in droves to voice their support for his nomination. “He is an exceptional leader and a true hero,” said Deputy Chief Ronnie Villanueva. “Captain Yslas has always led by example. We could rely on him to keep a calm, level head under pressure, even under the most challenging incident conditions. He has been a friend and mentor to countless members of this department. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award."
For many, Yslas’ retirement is bittersweet. “When he started talking, you stopped to listen,” remarked Captain I Cesar Garcia, one of Captain Yslas’ station mates at 48s. “He has such an incredible wealth of knowledge, and special gift for how to share his experience. We’re losing a great leader. Once he’s gone, that presence cannot be replaced.”
For others, like Apparatus Operator Travis Hill, Yslas’ departure resonates deeper. “I’m happy for him, but selfishly I’m bummed,” explained AO Hill. “His guidance and leadership are the reason I put in for a transfer to Station 48. He is like a father figure to so many of us, and he’ll definitely be missed.”
Although Captain Yslas’ final shift is around the corner, his legacy will carry on through those he has led and mentored. “Whatever station I’ve gone to, I always tried to give something back, leave it a little better than I found it. I encourage my teams to be confident, be competent, and do the right thing. Have the courage to do what’s right and you’ll leave a positive impact,” explained Yslas. Judging by the outpouring of feedback from his colleagues and superiors, Captain Randall Yslas truly served with courage, integrity and pride.
December 2019 Firefighter of the Month: FF/PM Edward Hechanova
The holiday season is Firefighter/Paramedic Edward Hechanova’s favorite time of the year. He’s partly joking, partly serious when he divulges that he loves Black Friday because it’s the day the he gets to break out the lights and decorations.
Hechanova laments that this is also one of the hardest times of the year to be a firefighter due to the emotional wear-and-tear of responding to holiday-related tragedies. Traditionally, fire departments all across the country see home fires, traffic incidents, and other medical emergencies surge throughout the holiday season.
“I love every part of being a firefighter and paramedic,” shared Hechanova. “Every part except breaking bad news to families during the holidays. The flip side is, you also get to see some of these tragedies bring out the best in people, and it can bring entire communities together. That’s the stuff that’ll melt any firefighter’s heart,” he said.
One incident in particular stands out for Hechanova. It was mid-December, approximately five years ago. He and his team responded to an emergency call near Occidental College. A young man had fallen out of a second-story window. The victim was badly injured, unresponsive and had no pulse when Hechanova arrived. They immediately began CPR and transported him to a nearby hospital. After completing the hospital handoff, Hechanova and his colleagues never heard what happened to the victim.
Several years passed, then seemingly out of the blue, Hechanova received a Christmas card in the mail from a name he did not recognize. In the card was a note from the mother of the young man who had fallen from the window. The mother graciously praised Hechanova and credited him with saving her son’s life. The note explained that the young man was able to make a full recovery, had returned to school, and graduated with his classmates… all because of Hechanova and his colleagues.
Looking back on the outcome, Hechanova cannot help but draw similarities to his own experience. He wasn’t much younger than the victim when a harrowing personal tragedy sparked his interest in becoming a firefighter.
When he was a teen, Hechanova and his family experienced a terrible home fire. He recalls being awestruck by the firefighters that rescued his family, and he knew right then and there what he would grow up to become.
“Hech,” as he’s referred to by his colleagues, has been an LAFD firefighter and paramedic for 25 years. He is currently assigned to Fire Station 55 in Highland Park, where he serves the neighboring communities of Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, and Mt. Washington. On top of his assigned duties, he also assists local residents with brush clearance projects. As a result, Hechanova has developed strong ties to this local community he’s called his second home for the past 11 years.
“I’ve known Edward for 23 years. He is a person of the highest integrity, and the paramedic I’d want my family to be treated by if they were ever in need,” expressed Battalion Chief David Spence. "FF/PM Hechanova is one of those guys that makes us proud, and he delivers outstanding service, above and beyond all standards.”
FF/PM Hechanova humbly accepted this recognition and insisted on sharing the honor with the entire crew at 55’s. He and his colleagues are excited to make good use of their $500 sponsorship from Marathon Petroleum Corporation.
NOVEMBER FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH – FIREFIGHTER III SEAN BAKER
Firefighter III (FF) Sean Baker is the LAFD’s rising star in the boxing ring. Part of the small, but mighty LAFD Boxing Club, Baker is one of seven active fighters representing the department on the public safety boxing circuit.
Baker and his teammates compete against fighters from across the country, and around the globe. While the league is recreational in nature, the competition level can be insanely tough.
In his last bout, Baker bested his opponent from the West Midlands Police of Birmingham, England. Baker had trained for nearly three months and dropped more than 30 pounds to reach his desired weight class.
If you ask Baker, the sacrifice was well worth it. The LAFD team went on to win the international tournament, winning 10 out of the 12 matches.
Boxers compete for much more than belts and bragging rights. Proceeds from each fight are typically donated or used to raise awareness for specific charities.
“I love that we when we step in the ring, we’re also doing something positive for a great cause,” shared Baker. “I’ll be dedicating my next fight to my academy classmate and fellow firefighter, Eric Stevens, who was recently diagnosed with ALS,” he added.
Baker has been an avid martial arts enthusiast and student since childhood. At age seven, he was introduced to the Korean art of tang soo do. Baker is now a seasoned fighter, and is proficient in several other forms including karate, jiu jitsu, and muy thai.
Surprisingly, he did not try his hand at boxing until 2018, nearly three years into his LAFD career. He took to it immediately, noting that “it felt like the natural progression of my training and fighting interests.”
Baker begins training for his competitions three months in advance. The training rigors produce an additional benefit by ensuring that Baker is in peak physical condition for his firefighting duties.
“I love every minute of it. Pushing myself to the limit and hitting that ‘runner’s high’ after every session. It’s just incredible,” shared Baker. “Plus, boxing has opened so many other doors and led me to build new friendships with boxers from different agencies and other countries.”
Baker is off to an impressive 3-0 start, putting the rest of the Cruiserweight class (junior heavyweight) on notice. His next fight is tentatively scheduled for April 2020.
Until then, expect to find Baker with the rest of his Fire Station 10 crew serving the downtown L.A. area, and training to add another victory to his name.
August/September Firefighter of the Month - Firefighter/Paramedic David Danielson
Firefighter/Paramedic David Danielson serves as the eye in the sky for the LAFD, but he is not your conventional fire department pilot.
After 26 years as a naval aviator, including three tours in Iraq, Sr. Chief Petty Officer Danielson retired from his role as a medic and helicopter crew chief to join the LAFD. Now he’s the Co-lead Pilot for the Unmanned Aerial Systems Program (UAS), and one of six pilots pioneering the department’s testing and deployment of UAS technology.
UAS are unmanned, remote piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones. Once seen as disruptive technology, UAS have evolved into force-multiplying tools that fortify safe deployment of resources.
Although still in its infancy, the UAS Program has quickly proven to be an invaluable resource for the LAFD. To date, the program has logged nearly 200 incident-related missions. Back in 2017 when the program launched, Danielson recalls working to help narrow the gap between helicopters and firefighters on the ground.
“In three short years, we’ve accomplished far more than originally intended. What we’ve actually done is add a whole other perspective that allows incident commanders to handle life-saving situations faster and more effectively than ever before,” expressed Danielson.
UAS are deployed for use across a variety of incidents, including hot-spot identification, aerial mapping to help wildfire containment, swift water rescues, hazmat operations, and search and rescue missions. According to Battalion Chief Richard Fields who oversees the UAS Program, “If picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the value of the real-time video and thermal imaging data this technology adds when it comes to protecting homes and saving lives.”
Members of the UAS Program train rigorously to achieve their FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot’s License and log a minimum of 20 flights hours before receiving their initial certification. Today, the UAS Program is bolstered by Co-Lead FF Derrick Ward, Engineer Robert Smith, Inspector Art Rodriguez, Inspector Steven Hamilton, and Inspector Kurt Corral.
Danielson and his fellow pilots drill constantly, sharpening their skills to drive the program forward. The team’s curiosity and innovative spirit lead to expanded deployment capabilities and implementation of lifesaving tech.
Previews of the new UAS features were on display at a recent Public Safety exhibition where Danielson remote piloted a state-of-the-art UAS valued at more than $50,000. He masterfully demonstrated how UAS pilots might assist with a Swift Water Rescue by air-dropping flotation devices to those in danger.
“It’s equal parts exciting and challenging,” remarks Danielson when asked about the fun-factor of piloting the aircraft. “It takes a tremendous amount of skill, patience, and discipline, but there’s also definitely a sense of enjoyment, especially when our involvement adds value to real-time decision making.
Danielson humbly accepted the honor of Firefighter of the Month on behalf of the entire UAS Program team. He and the crew are excited to apply the $500 sponsorship towards new UAS equipment.
July 2019 Firefighter of the Month - Inspector/Paramedic Ruthie Bernal
LAFD firefighters and paramedics are known for responding to emergencies after they have begun. Inspector/Paramedic Ruthie Bernal’s job is to prevent some of those emergencies from ever happening.
“The next brush fire might be inevitable, but it does not have to be a catastrophe for a community,” said Bernal. “My job is to work with the public to keep that from happening the best we can.”
Bernal serves as an Inspector in the LAFD’s Brush Clearance Unit (BCU). She oversees parcels of land in the communities of Sylmar, Sunland and Tujunga that are part of the 133 square-miles of Los Angeles that have fire high fire hazard zones. Her duties include inspecting properties, issuing notices and educating the community about simple ways brush clearance can save lives. To manage the 10,000 parcels assigned to her, Bernal uses technology that she helped design.
After serving in the BCU for three years, Bernal heard that the digital program for tracking inspections was severely outdated. Having an extensive amount of administrative knowledge of the unit, she was selected to represent the BCU during the development of the new program: Vegetation Management System (VMS) 2. This inevitably laid the foundation for the LAFD’s current software program, VMS 3, which utilizes GPS data and allows Inspectors to photograph, document and manage any potential property notices.
“I found being a part of the development of VMS 2 was a lot of fun,” Bernal said. “It was an honor to be chosen as the lead from for my unit to help create such an important program.”
Bernal has been with the LAFD for 28 years with time as a Paramedic before joining the BCU in 2001. Besides her roles in the creation of VMS 2 and VMS 3, she also streamlined the informational card that is mailed to residents living in extreme fire hazard areas. These exceptional contributions earned her the Michael P. Reedy Award, one of three Annual Fire Marshal’s Awards.
Outside her LAFD work, Bernal enjoys traveling, anything outdoors and spending time with her husband and two boys.
JUNE 2019 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH: FIREFIGHTER / PARAMEDIC OMAR FUENTES
The success of the LAFD’s cadet youth program is best told through stories such as Firefighter / Paramedic Omar Fuentes. His passion to join the fire service sparked after a visit to Fire Station 34 in Crenshaw where he became a cadet. Years later, Fuentes can still be found at Fire Station 34, where he now serves his community as an LAFD firefighter.
“This is the station where I discovered that I wanted to be a firefighter,” Fuentes said. “Having the chance to work here now, wearing a badge, it makes me smile all the time.”
Following his time as a cadet, which introduces teens to a career in the fire service, Fuentes served as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for five years. He then paid his way through school to become a Paramedic. After serving four years as a Paramedic for a private ambulance company, he joined LAFD in 2016. Fuentes knew that with 85% of the LAFD’s responses being emergency medical service-related, his training would be put to the test every day.
The difference between an EMT and a Paramedic is the level of care each provides. EMT’s can provide patients oxygen, administer antibiotics and assist with treatments for asthma attacks or allergic reactions. Paramedics are qualified to provide these same treatments and more including administering medications via needles, intravenous lines, providing advanced airway support and can resuscitate a patient having significant problems like a heart attack.
“It could feel like the worst day of someone’s life and I get to go and comfort them,” Fuentes said. “Being a paramedic is a self-rewarding job, I love it.”
Fuentes doesn’t limit his passion of helping only patients; he also provides mentorship to his fellow LAFD members any time he can. Even during the busiest of days at the station Fuentes always makes time to sit down with new members and explain the varies procedures.
When not working at the fire station, Fuentes enjoys spending time with his daughter and girlfriend, along with working on projects around his house.
MAY 2019 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH: FIREFIGHTER / PARAMEDIC CYNTHIA SATO
When Firefighter Cynthia Sato finishes her work as a 911 call dispatcher for the day she steps into her other role with the LAFD; being a Search and Rescue K-9 handler.
“Having a K-9 is kind of like having a kid and a roommate at the same time,” Sato said. “She’s an employee of the department just like me, but also my best friend.”
Sato’s interest in the LAFD began when she was a 17-year-old explorer (now called cadets). After pretending to be a victim during a K-9 search and rescue simulation as part of her cadet post, her desire to become a handler immediately sparked. Sato joined the LAFD in 2006 and worked at numerous fire stations before becoming a certified paramedic. Later, she pursued her ultimate desire and was paired with “Roxie,” her current K-9 partner, by the Search Dog Foundation.
Sato and Roxie have been deployed three times, with the most recent being to the Montecito mudslides in early 2018. During their six-day deployment, Roxie searched through the carnage looking for anyone who could be trapped in the mud, damaged structures and other debris.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see anything like that,” Sato said. “Deployments like that are what we train for. Seeing Roxie put that training into action was rewarding.”
Her desire to broaden her skills into areas such as being a K-9 handler also led Sato to her current position as a 911 call dispatcher. She handles emergency calls that range from a simple headache to a patient not breathing. As both a firefighter and paramedic, Sato uses her experience to quickly diagnose a situation and deploy the best resources to a caller’s aid.
Sato is excited to continue her partnership with Roxie. She is also in the process of joining the LAFD’s Arson/Counter Terrorism Section as an Arson Investigator.
APRIL 2019 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH: FIREFIGHTER / PARAMEDIC DEXTER MCDANIEL
For almost 30 years Firefighter/Paramedic Dexter McDaniel has done more than help people on the job as a firefighter. He also donates his personal time to teach people how to prepare for an interview with the LAFD.
“We often talk about ourselves in a way that fits into a standard model,” McDaniel said. “The first thing I tell anyone is that there is no one better to tell your story than you.”
The LAFD employs a comprehensive oral interview during its hiring process. McDaniel knew candidates often fall back on habits like speaking chronologically and answering questions with limited information. To combat this he created a way to help people discover how to use their personal strengths, traits and experiences by outlining them similar to the floor plan of a house.
“You can walk into your house from any direction and still know where each room is,” McDaniel said. “The same applies here. We fill your house with everything that makes you stand out so that no matter what question is asked, you can choose any room to walk into and find the answer you need.”
His method quickly became popular. McDaniel’s phone began receiving calls from people across California, New Mexico, Texas, Georgia and even New York. No matter the distance, McDaniel always asks for the same three things from each person he helps. A classmate t-shirt, a promise that they will work to help others and that they never forget that someone spent time to help them.
McDaniel estimates that he’s spent more than 2,000 hours helping over 500 individuals since he joined the LAFD. If someone is unable to meet at his fire station or talk over the phone, he opens the door to his own home for meetings.
When not working at Fire Station 79 or helping someone prepare for an interview, McDaniel enjoys traveling, camping and glamping with his wife, Judy.
MARCH 2019 FIREFIGHTER OF THE MONTH: CAPTAIN AMY BASTMAN
Imagine being the voice of the largest fire department on the west coast each time you come to work. For two years Amy Bastman served in this capacity in her role as a Public Service Officer (PSO).
“I learned more about this department than I ever would have because of this position,” Bastman said. “Having the chance to share all the different things we do each day reminds me that I get to work for the best, the LAFD.”
Bastman is one of three PSO’s based at the department’s 911-call dispatch center. Some of her duties include answering public phone calls, serving as a spokesperson during incidents, crafting safety messages and managing the LAFD’s ever growing social media presence.
“The PSO position is critical to telling the LAFD’s story on all platforms,” Bastman said. “I am able to see people’s reactions to our work from across the globe in real time.”
Bastman’s time as a PSO occurred during one of the most challenging fire seasons in recent history. In December of 2017 she reported on the LAFD’s efforts in simultaneously battling the Creek and Skirball wildfires. She gave dozens of live interviews and provided information on social media. Bastman also assisted in the creation and distribution of incident maps for both fires viewed approximately 4 million times. She would later be awarded a Notice of Commendation by the LAFD for her exceptional efforts during this time.
Besides her public relations skills, Bastman is a certified paramedic, urban search and rescue technician and hazardous materials specialist. In her 11-year career with the LAFD, she has served out of fire stations across the city and been part of responses for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Outside her LAFD work, Bastman is a Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation mentor who provides guidance for parents whose child has recently been diagnosed with the disease. She enjoys playing on the LAFD’s ice hockey team, outdoor activities and spending time with her wife and three children.
The LAFD Foundation congratulates Captain Bastman on her promotion to the rank of Captain I and wishes her well at her new assignment at Fire Station 52.
February 2019 FFOTM – Pilot David Nordquist
Pilot David Nordquist has always loved aviation. He was 5-years-old when he went on his first flight at the Van Nuys Airport. Little did Nordquist know that years later he would be saving lives by flying LAFD helicopters out of the same airport.
“I was flying airplanes before and after joining the department in my spare time, but never thought I would connect the two,” Nordquist said. “When I was approached about joining Air Operations, I learned this is the ultimate multi-tasking job because you’re a firefighter and pilot at the same time.”
Nordquist had already served as a firefighter and engineer for a combined 23 years when he joined the Air Operations unit in 2004. As a trainee, he worked as a crew chief, hoist operator, safety member and rescuer before becoming a pilot.
The Air Operations unit responds to situations like brush fires, hoist rescues and can be used as an air ambulance. Other scenarios Nordquist has personally flown include the transportation of a SWAT team to Big Bear, airlifting someone off Catalina Island and rescuing large animals. Of all these experiences, a rescue made during last year’s Woolsey Fire will always stand out in his mind.
“We had just made a water drop when the call came in that some folks on Castro Peak were trapped,” Nordquist said. “We were getting low on fuel but knew we were the only way those people we’re getting out of there.”
After Nordquist skillfully landed the helicopter on the rugged hilltop, fellow Pilot Joel Smith jumped out and led the three individuals and their two dogs to the aircraft. As Nordquist lifted the helicopter back into the air with everyone safely aboard, he was able to see that the flames had only been a single hilltop away. For their heroic actions, both Nordquist and Smith received a Certificate of Recognition in January 2019 from the LA City Council.
Nordquist has been a member of the LAFD for a total of 38 years and will be retiring this spring with more than 3,200 flight hours. He enjoys hiking, traveling, building model airplanes and spending time with his wife and children.
January 2019 Firefighter of the Month: Captain I Thomas Henzgen
Have you ever heard of the fire department term, “first in?” This phrase refers to a geographical area that a specific fire station will respond to incidents first because they are the closest resource. For Captain I Thomas Henzgen and the LAFD’s Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) team, the entire City of Los Angeles is their “first in.”
“We are dispatched to every technical rescue, physical rescue and large structure fire no matter where it’s located,” Henzgen said. “At a moment’s notice we’re ready to respond and solve a difficult puzzle to help rescue someone…it’s an exciting challenge.”
Henzgen serves as one of the captains on US&R 88, a specially designed apparatus tailored to the US&R team’s needs based out of Fire Station 88. He oversees US&R responses to situations such as: confined space, cliff, tower crane, storm drain, river, collapsed structure, mudslide, collapsed trench, flooding and many other technical rescue incidents.
“The things we respond to require a lot of thought about how best to approach them,” Henzgen said. “A collapsed structure, for example, might need shoring to support it before, during and after the actual rescue. Every situation is unique.”
Henzgen’s technical rescue knowledge stems from more than 20 years of professional experience including his tenure with the LAFD as well as his time as a structural engineer and general contractor. His public service interest began with a ski patrol and includes time with mountain rescue and law enforcement agencies. Henzgen’s path to join the LAFD took more than nine years and became a reality in September of 1998.
Since that first day he put on an LAFD badge Henzgen has explored other areas in the department. He is currently the coordinator of the LAFD’s Swift Water Rescue team and is a State Fire Training Certified Instructor in various US&R disciplines. He has also been deployed to aid the recovery efforts across the nation following six different hurricanes.
“No matter where I go, the best reward is just offering assistance in a time of need,” Henzgen said. “Having that opportunity to go help, I don’t need anything more than that.”