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After serving in the BCU for three years, Bernal heard that the digital program for tracking inspections was severely outdated.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.”