The Los Angeles Fire Department doesn’t just wait for disaster to happen. They are proactive in preventing both fires and safety hazards.
While Venice may not be on a densely vegetated hillside or prone to heavy flooding, the firefighters at LAFD Station #63 inspect between 900 and 1,000 buildings annually to check for fire regulation violations and any source of potential danger.
“We document the inspections,” says Capt. Rex Vilaubi. “Fire prevention is not just for us. It’s for the occupants to make sure they are safe.”
Upon request, the firefighters will go out into the community, whether to a personal residence or neighborhood function, to provide information on fire prevention systems.
Station #63 is a task force station with a truck, engine and pump. The captain II is in charge of an operation, while the AO (apparatus operator) drives the fire truck, which carries the ladders and other equipment. The front engine, driven by the captain I, carries the water and the rear engine, driven by an engineer, is known as the “pump” and it provides additional water.
“Our whole emphasis when we are in or outside of quarters is to respond within one minute,” says Vilaubi. Precision teamwork is demonstrated in the fire department, where firefighters say they learn to train as if their lives depend on it.
Firefighters have specific jobs depending on where they sit. On the engine, the hydrant person lays the hose line to supply the water and then helps fight the fire. The engineer pumps the water, the nozzle person assists with fighting the fire and the captain I provides back-up.
The captain II sizes up the incident when the truck comes on a scene, while the apparatus operator’s main job is to ventilate the roof. The tillerman, driving the rear engine, is responsible for shutting off the utilities, which insures that the firefighters won’t get electrocuted and prevents the fire from being “force-fed,” firefighters explain. The top position on the truck assists with the ventilation and the inside person assists with entry.
Firefighters are trained to be prepared for a variety of emergencies, such as electrical wires falling in the rain and wind that can be dangerous, and needing to remove a victim from a wrecked car.
When battling a structural fire they are trained how to determine what area is going to burn the fastest and come down first, and they say it’s important to know roof construction to be aware of where they are walking.
Station 63 firefighters say Venice streets can be tricky and it is important to predetermine good access points. Some are pie shaped and they change direction, and firefighters call Abbot Kinney Boulevard a “dogleg” street — meaning that it doesn’t follow a north/west or east/west direction.
When traveling around Venice, homes on the canals and walk streets can only be accessed from an alley, and they say it is important for these buildings to have address numbers facing the courts.
According to Capt. Mark Wolf, in charge of statistics for the LAFD Planning Section, Station #63 had 1,075 incidents during the last quarter of 2009 — 46 percent for advanced life support and 33 percent for basic life support for a total of 79 percent EMS (Emergency Medical Service) and 21 percent for fire and other. Overall, city of Los Angeles figures for the same time period were 82 percent for EMS and 18 percent for fire and other. Out of a total of 1,618 responses by Station 63, 42 percent were made by rescue (ambulance), 31 percent were made by light task force (truck and engine) and 27 percent by engine.
Prior to 1970, the ambulance service was handled by the Health Department that, at the time, was part of the city of Los Angeles, and the service on the Westside was contracted out to private companies. In 1970, the mayor and City Council agreed they didn’t like the way the system was managed. It was decided to give the ambulance service to the fire department because they both work to save lives. Thus was born the paramedic, whose purpose is to provide advanced life support in emergency settings.
You may wonder why you see a fire engine with an ambulance at a medical emergency where there is no fire. Quite often an engine is able to reach the scene first. All firefighters are trained to give basic life support. If someone is critical, they can keep them stable until the arrival of a paramedic, who gives a higher level of medical care. That can mean the difference between life and death.
I have to say I was impressed with our lifesavers. They are dedicated, knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their job and proud to be firefighters. Hopefully we won’t need their services, but if we do, we’re in good hands.