Several weeks ago, I participated in the LAFD event “Fahrenheit 2012” where money was raised to provide financial support and community backing to our fabulous fire fighters all throughout Los Angeles. I won an auction to sleep over at a real fire station and ride in a firetruck!
I finally realized this prize Saturday night at Fire Station #27 in Hollywood. Joe Castro, the fabulous batallion chief, was so kind to have carefully orchestrated my visit in advance.
I arrived at Fire House #27 at 6pm to dine with the firemen. The usual number of firefighters on a Friday night is 16, however, part of the team was out covering for another fire station. I had a lovely dinner of pasta and salad prepared by the the firemen who alternate as chefs. The firefighters do all of their own shopping, cooking, and to my surprise, pay for their own groceries!
I was then given a thorough tour of the beautiful firehouse which is relatively new in construction. It sits next door to the original Fire House #27 built in 1930. After years of use and the massive Northridge earthquake that almost reduced it to rubble, it was restored and converted to a fire station museum with a library. Both are located on Cole Avenue in the heart of Hollywood, next to the Police Department.
They have a gym (which I understand receives frequent use as every fire fighter must be able to carry the 70 pounds of equipment on them), and separate dormitories upstairs. The famous pole is still there although I am told they seldom use it as it can cause back problems for the firemen. The firemen go through a rigorous boot camp before making the cut. I am told only 53% of the recruits make it through the boot camp.
As I went on tour of the firehouse I was amazed at the complexity of the fire engines themselves. The firemen who are qualified to operate the pumping equipment go through additional testing and training as it is quite complicated for the engineer who operates the water system on the truck. The firemen all leave their boots and pants right next to the truck as they are given only one minute to go from their rooms or wherever they are in the station to get on the truck and leave.
After my tour, I was driven by the Batallion chief and his associate chief around the district through the Hollywood Bowl traffic and through to Cahuenga Pass station which is a smaller one with only one truck. I was treated to vanilla ice cream and listened in as the firefighters discussed the upcoming ‘retirement dinner’ of one of the most popular chiefs.
We then headed back to fire house 27 and just as we pull in the alarm goes off. One of the firemen opens the door of the big ladder truck which can reach 7 stories high. They throw on my firefighting jacket and I jump aboard the fire truck. We stream out of the fire house with the sirens blazing and head straight down Hollywood Blvd. I felt like I was in a dream, the adrenaline rush was exhilarating. Of course this is everyday fare for these fabulous fire fighters. We arrived at the office building and learn it is a false alarm; apparently 99% of the fire alarm calls are false which is an unfortunate waste of resources, but a necessary one. We get back to the house and while we were out the other engines were called so there is a constant flow of emergencies. I wait for the next alarm and it is an apartment with a fire threat (which they call a structure fire).
This time I am on the fire engine and I am outfitted with earphones and a microphone so I can talk to all the firemen and feel as if I am one of the gang. We are on our way to a nearby apartment building where an outlet has blown up and the wall is heated. The firemen make quick work of eliminating the problem. Our next emergency is a man who is hemorrhaging and is located out of the district, they quickly check the maps for the location and we wind through the Sunset Strip above the Chateau Marmont and I marvel at the drivers ability to navigate through the winding roads and traffic to location. Apparently, the drivers are given special training and each truck costs as much as $500,000. They quickly locate the man and given him emergency care until the ambulance arrives and takes him to the hospital. Back at the firehouse the alarm goes off again and this time it is a drug overdose in the heart of Hollywood so once again, sirens blazing, we race to scene of the emergency. It turns out it is a young man who is passed out probably in a drunken stupor according to the witnesses, so we head back to the station. By now, I am exhausted and ready for some shut eye as it is 2:30am. The firemen do not have the benefit of sleeping when tired, no matter the time of night as they must always be ready to act. I tell them that unless there is a huge emergency to wake me , otherwise I wanted a few hours of sleep before the 6:30am shift change and is my time to head homeward.
I must say that I have tremendous respect for these very hard working fire fighters. The chief commented than since 9/11, fire fighters have received a lot of attention and admiration. As a result of the much deserved attention, the young firemen get a lot more attention than the current chief did when he started in his career which I thought was interesting. The firemen work an average of 56 hours a week. You can rest assure that we are in GREAT hands with the LA Fire Department! I was so honored to meet personally so many of our talented fighters.