It’s bigger than basketball – a motto that the LA Sparks have adopted. With countless hours giving back to the community ranging from financial literacy to first responders, it is clear that the organizations focus indeed goes beyond, just basketball.
On Tuesday afternoon, the LA Sparks Front Office visited Fire Station 106 in Mission Hills. The mission: to thank first responders and firefighters firsthand for their hard work in helping contain the wildfires that devastated Southern California over the last couple of weeks.
As of Wednesday morning, the Woolsey Fire had burned 96,949 acres, destroyed 1,500 structures and damaged another 341, and produced 3 fatalities.
Sparks FO head to the fire station
So on your typical week day, when most people are working, sitting behind a desk, reading the paper or an online article about the latest fire updates, tweeting about their gratitude towards these brave men and women and so forth, the Sparks front office, along with Sparks President and COO Christine Simmons, decided to personally say thank you. And I was lucky enough to join them.
“It’s important for us to come out, me specifically and our front office so that we can get to know these firefighters and help tell their stories,” Simmons said. “We got to hear a lot of those stories, you did too, about how we can help support them, how we can help people who are interested in becoming a firefighter, and just get to know them.
They’re a part of our community and they’re first on the front line, they’re so selfless. If we can’t come and show them that we care in person then it’s not as meaningful for us.”
Those words resonated with me. I had never been to a fire station, let alone see and hear firsthand what it is that firefighters do exactly. We all know the obvious, but their jobs go far beyond that.
I walked into Fire Station 106 and was immediately greeted by the six firefighters scheduled that day. We all gathered in what was considered the “heart” of every fire station, the kitchen.
The Sparks were gracious enough to bring along some Thanksgiving desserts and beverages, sponsored by ‘Southern Girl Desserts’, and we all sat across the long rectangular table as we shared stories, asked questions and learned.
Topics ranged from work schedules, everyday tasks at the station, to their personal lives and the devastating Woolsey Fire. No question went unanswered, though some were kept off the record.
In the very corner of the kitchen entrance hung a bulletin board. The board contains a monthly calendar with everyone’s shifts, a schedule that consists of 24 hours on, 24 hours off for four consecutive days.
After the initial four days, the firefighters are granted three days off before starting the cycle all over again.
Following three weeks of this rigorous schedule, the firefighters are given three weeks off, many of whom travel back to their hometowns, where they have families of their own.
Take the example of Captain Branucci, who was the Captain on duty at Fire Station 106 the day we went in for the visit.
Branucci, a man with a huge personality and an unbelievable sense of humor, hails from the state of Texas, where he lives with his wife and two kids.
“At first she had a hard time with it because of the schedule,” he said.
“But now, it’s like a honeymoon every time I go back (home).
It’s harder with the kids, she has a system going and then I come home and ruin it,” he joked.
Then you have other firefighters like Gilmer, who lives locally, and who’s home has also been affected by Southern California fires.
Last year, while on duty saving lives, and homes threatened by the Creek fire, his own home was burnt down by the Thomas fire.
This is the reality of these firefighters that we often miss. These aren’t only real-life heroes, but also everyday people who are also in need of our support.
“They’re literally our neighbors, they’re our friends, they’re our families, and there’s just so many small ways that we can support them,” said Simmons.
“They have needs, and they have families just like we do, they’re multi-facet just like all of us, so we want to make sure that everybody gets out there to support them and come and visit them and see all the different things that they do.”
In the two hours we spent at the Fire Station, that’s what we did.
Hands on experience at 106
Following our conversations in the kitchen, it was time for hands on experience.
First, we learned all about the equipment.
A firefighters personal protective equipment (PPE) is about 45 pounds. The weight can depend on the tools needed for the job, but a basic PPE will consist of a helmet, hood, pants, coat, gloves, boots and an air pack. Commonly add-ons consist of a thermal imaging camera, radio, box light and set of irons (halogen bar and axe) that could increase your PPE weight to about 75 pounds.
I opted for option one with 45 pounds and an axe add-on.
Next, breathing masks, or Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), as used in proper firefighter terminology. Firefighters breath compressed air and not oxygen when using SCBA. The cylinders are filled with air using a filter system to obtain the cleanest air possible. The air is also in very cool temperatures in order to maintain the firefighter comfortable during a hot fire. Should the firefighter run out of air, they are trained to transmit a Mayday to alert the Incident Command as well as other teams on scene to their emergency.
This is probably the most crucial part to their training. As contrary to popular belief, the deadliest enemy is not the fire, but the smoke.
Smoke causes more fire deaths than flames, according to the National Fire Protection Association, because people are incapacitated by fumes so quickly that they can’t get to safety.
Following our SCBA demonstration, it was time to learn about the fire engine. An engine that is essentially a combination of a personal carrier, tool box and water tanker, all crucial components to fighting fires.
A fire engine which is also known as a fire pumper, carry hose, tools and pump water. They also carry ladders and a water tank (usually 500-750 gallons).
The national standard is a minimum of four firefighters per engine; our engine had six, including Sparks mascot, Sparky.
In a five minute glimpse of what it’s like to be along for the ride, we wore headsets in order to communicate with each other; and I soon discovered that Slim Jim’s were the favorite snack on board.
How the public can support
During our ride along, we discussed supply donations, and other ways the public can help support.
“If it’s supplies, eye drops would be great, because honestly, a lot of guys don’t take proper care of their eyes,” station engineer, Werick said.
As for the best possible option, that would be donating directly to their foundation.
The Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation “supports the LAFD in protecting life, property, and the environment by providing essential equipment, training, and public outreach programs to supplement city resources.”
And they are actively providing support to firefighters working to contain the Woolsey Fire. You can donate by visiting supportlafd.org.
There is also the California Fire Foundation which provides “emotional and financial assistance to families of fallen firefighters, firefighters and the communities they protect.” Donations are accepted through cafirefoundation.org.
So in a world where it’s bigger than basketball, Simmons and her team continue to showcase it firsthand,
“For us its bigger than basketball, we talk about that a lot,” she said.
“So how can we get very deeply involved with the community whether its first responders, financial literacy, health and wellness, however we can help, because then that shows them that we care about them which is far deeper than just the dollars that they spend at our box office.
You want people to feel like we’re more than just a sports team because we are, and you do that by showing up and how you show up. I much rather spend the money on resources and time with people,rather than go buy a spot on TV that says ‘hey, go buy a ticket.’ No, this says, ‘hey, we’re involved, we’re here, we’re here to support LA.'”