Veteran Los Angeles Firefighter Brent Lovrien was seen by his Station 95 colleagues as someone who could bring a sense of joy to their Westchester station, near Los Angeles International Airport.
“He was an upbeat kind of guy,” Firefighter Derrick Ward recalled of his Station 95 colleague who was known as “Lovey.”
“He loved life and he brought that joy back to the station when he came to work,” Ward said.
The 35-year-old Lovrien was killed in an explosion Wednesday afternoon, March 26th, which occurred as he was attempting to investigate the source of smoke in a locked electrical storage room at a building in the 8800 block of South Sepulveda Boulevard, near La Tijera Boulevard in Westchester.
Lovrien, a ten-year City of Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) firefighter who previously served three years as a federal firefighter on Terminal Island, was taken to the Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center Marina Campus, where he was pronounced dead.
Another Fire Station 95 firefighter, Engineer Anthony Guzman, suffered multiple fractures and facial trauma in the blast and was taken to the UCLA Medical Center in Westwood for treatment. The 48-year-old Guzman, an 18-year Los Angeles Fire Department veteran, was released from the hospital Sunday, March 30th, fire officials said.
Lovrien and Guzman served together on the “A” platoon at Station 95.
A civilian was treated at the scene for minor injuries after the blast and was released, officials said.
The powerful explosion that killed Lovrien came after Station 29 firefighters were investigating two earlier explosions in underground electrical vaults on Sepulveda Boulevard that blew manhole covers into the air. The Sta- tion 95 unit was called to check on smoke coming from a first-floor electrical storage room in a Water and Power Community Credit Union. Lovrien had attempted to enter the locked room using a rotary saw when the explosion occurred, blasting a hole through the side of the Credit Union, fire officials said.
After conducting a thorough preliminary investigation of the incident, city officials and LAFD investigators determined that the fatal explosion was the result of a fire that started in an underground electrical vault.
The fire was apparently caused by a “ground fault” in an electrical cable from the vault that created unburned combustible gases which traveled through the cable and collected in the electrical storage room, officials said. The combustible gases pressurized and were ignited by a spark from the rotary saw, officials said.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a news conference announcing the investigation results that the fatal explosion appears to have been a freak accident, adding that it was “the result of a confluence of events that have not happened in this city in nearly 20 years.”
Following the death of Lovrien March 26th, Villaraigosa noted that the city firefighter was the first to die in the line of duty since he became mayor and expressed sorrow for the department’s loss.
“It’s a sad day in the City of Angels when we lose one of the courageous guardian angels rushing to protect our families and keep our city streets safe,” Villaraigosa said. “Once again, we have witnessed the stunning bravery and selfless heroism that defines the Los Angeles Fire Department.”
Referring to the bond between firefighters who serve together, LAFD Fire Chief Doug Barry said the members of his department are “deeply saddened” to lose one of their family members.
“The fire department truly is a family so these types of incidents hit us very deeply,” Barry said.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who accompanied Villaraigosa to offer support to Lovrien’s and Guzman’s Westchester colleagues, also referred to the close relationships that firefighters develop while working together.
“Firefighters live together in the same building and have meals together,” said Rosendahl, who represents Westchester in the 11th Council District. “They truly become a close family so it’s like losing a family member.”
Officials from throughout the state have offered their condolences to Lovrien’s family and his fellow firefighters.
“Firefighter Brent Lovrien was a selfless, extraordinary hero who always answered the call of duty to save lives and protect communities,” said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement. “His courageous sacrifice will be honored and remembered forever by the people of California.”
To those who worked closely with Lovrien, the La Habra resident was remembered as someone who would “step up” for them. Station 95 firefighter Anthony Pacheco recalled how Lovrien had offered to fill in for him on his birthday and reminded Pacheco of the offer on the day of the explosion.
“His nickname is Lovey — that tells you everything about him,” Pacheco said of his colleague.
Capt. Armando Hogan, the fire department public information officer who served with Lovrien early in his career, recalled how Lovrien was an outgoing person who could be counted on to ensure that the safety and well-being of others was addressed.
The explosions that hit the stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard in Westchester also took a toll on businesses in the area. While the explosions did not directly cause any power outages in the area, the Department of Water and Power (DWP) cut off power to area circuits as a safety precaution during the initial investigation, affecting about 378 customers at the highest point, DWP spokeswoman Carol Tucker said. Power was restored by late Friday, March 28th.
The northbound lanes of Sepulveda Boulevard in the Westchester Business District remained closed March 28th, but both sides of the busy corridor have since reopened. Businesses on both sides of Sepulveda between Lincoln and La Tijera Boulevards were closed following the incident but were completely reopened as of Monday, March 31st.
John Ruhlen of the Westchester Streetscape Improvement Association said that roadwork along Sepulveda in the business district will be delayed until crews can clean up the impacted area.
Many of the businesses seemed to be prepared to deal with the emergency and were able to react quickly to the situation, noted Christina Davis, president of the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce.
Barry acknowledged such Westchester businesses as Truxton’s, Trader Joe’s and Paco’s Restaurant that have offered support to the department.
The Water and Power Community Credit Union board of directors has authorized a $5,000 donation to a memorial fund established for Lovrien through the Fire Family Foundation.
“We are inviting our members, employees, firefighter families and the public to contribute,” said Community Credit Union president Carl Stewart said. “The fund honors the memory of Brent Lovrien and will help his family.”
Members of the Gateway to L.A. business improvement district, which represents businesses near LAX, have offered to contribute money to funds established for Lovrien, said Laurie Hughes, Gateway to L.A. executive director. Another foundation has been established for Station 95 improvements.
Department of Water and Power general manager David Nahai said that the electrical conduit from the underground vault which suffered the ground fault is over 60 years old. This type of cable is used throughout the city and when problems typically occur they are resolved quickly but the fatal explosion was the result of a freak accident, Nahai said.
“It was a dreadful sequence of events that strung together in a way for this tragedy to occur,” Nahai said of the incident.
The cables are being replaced with synthetic cables throughout the city over time, he said.
“The warning this gives us is that we do have an infrastructure that’s aging,” Nahai said.
Rosendahl also said that the incident has alerted officials that they need to work on improving the city’s infrastructure.
“This raises the issue of reinvesting in our infrastructure,” Rosendahl said.
A candlelight vigil in memory of Lovrien is scheduled Thursday, April 3rd, with assembly beginning at 5 p.m. and the vigil beginning at 6 p.m. at Fire Station 5, 8900 Emerson Ave., Westchester.
Memorial services for Lovrien are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Friday, April 4th, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., downtown Los Angeles. The services will be preceded by a walking procession to the cathedral by public officials, uniformed firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency personnel.
Funeral services are scheduled to follow the cathedral ceremonies at the Calvary Chapel in Downey and interment will be at the Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.