What started out as a desk video/audio interview to learn more about what goes into the day-to-day work of firefighters and paramedics for print and radio broadcasts turned into a ride-along with Los Angeles County Fire Department Public Safety Officer Captain Brian Jordan, and a front seat to one of the most publicized health crises to strike L.A. area schools in recent times.
Contributing writer Charlene Muhammad went to Fire Station 171 in Inglewood to interview staff as part of a fellowship with Ethnic Media Services to learn about the daily challenges and work of firefighters.
On the way, the Sentinel contributor learned that a low flying Delta plane had to make an emergency landing, and dumped fuel in-flight on January 14. In the process, it doused school children on a playground, homes, and businesses in communities from Inglewood near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Orange County.
Low and behold! As Jordan explained preliminary details, he and this writer whisked away into his department SUV, sirens blazing! “But wait! We were supposed to be at a desk,” she exclaimed. But it was happening.
Much of what was heard in the emergency vehicle on the way could not be recorded or shared due to privacy laws, but picture this:
Approximately if not more than a dozen emergency response fire engines, ambulances, Hazmat and police vehicles, crowded on a modest street…groups of parents huddled on the school yard, just feet away from the fence separating them from their children, yet all they could do was wait until paramedics completed check ups to children affected and they were cleared.
Children and staff at Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy complained of itchy, burning skin and eye and throat irritations, among other things.
At the time, there were approximately 30 patients at the school. The skin and other irritations weren’t isolated to those at the site. Before entering the perimeter, in fact approximately 3 or more miles away, fumes permeated the vehicle and it became increasingly harder to breath. This writer’s throat became scratchy and her eyes began to burn. She could only imagine being right there on site.
That became a reality very quickly. They park, and enter the organized yet chaotic scene. Organized because fire and other emergency response personnel appeared to have everything under control…chaotic because parents and reporters were anxious for answers.
“It was very bad,” said an unidentifiable woman, as the pair headed to the command post. “My eyes and face are still burning,” the woman said.
“Same here,” the ride along reporter echoed aloud, as she asked Jordan for a gas mask.
The Sentinel reports more facts about the dumping incident and the aftermath, including a lawsuit filed by several teachers and a recent town hall meeting attended by Congresswoman Maxine Waters to determine the facts and hear residents in this issue.
Meanwhile, back inside the SUV – as this writer literally screamed at drivers and pedestrians, “Get out of the way! Pull over! … To the right! Wait!” – on the way to Park Avenue Elementary, Jordan patiently answered questions about how an increase in parcel taxes through Measure FD on the March 3 ballot would help L.A. County firefighters and paramedics in incidents like the fuel dumping. (See Sentinel report on Measure FD in this issue.)
“We need all types of resources, right down to technology like ipads,” he stated. “People expect us to fix things, and we have to. And, we do it very well,” said Fire Captain and Safety Officer Jordan, who has been with L.A. County Fire for 34 years.
He pointed out how fortunate people regarding the fuel dumping crisis, because more fire engines and staff happened to be available at the time as emergency incidents were a bit quiet then. However, typically that isn’t the case, he said.
Firefighters and paramedics are aware of the challenges in a lack of resources, right down to radios for communication, so they are prepared to do the job regardless, said Jordan. “But again, it’s nice to have an exorbitant amount of resources, where it makes the job more beneficial to our customers, who are everybody reading the article in the Sentinel,” he told the Sentinel.
“We want everyone to live a safe happy life; partly due to what we do in the background. Ride alongs are allowed with Deputy Fire Chief approval; with the intent of teaching people what we do,” Jordan said.