By Aaron Blevins, 9/20/2012
Chief Welch settles in at local fire stations
Alicia Welch knows that relationships are paramount in the firefighting community, and that is what the new battalion chief for Battalion 18 has been focused on since she was promoted in May.
Welch, who previously worked as a captain II at Station 78 in Studio City, attended and spoke at a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) meeting on Sunday, as part of her effort to get to know community stakeholders in the area she covers. However, she also continues to build rapport within the battalion, especially its captains.
“It’s critical,” Welch said. “It’s critical to have a positive relationship with my captains because my captains are where the rubber meets the road. Through my captains, I get clarity that we’re all on the same page.”
She now manages 67 firefighters and operations for seven stations in Mid-City, Palms, Crenshaw, Cheviot Hills and the Fairfax District. Welch is tasked with a plethora of duties, such as conducting personnel evaluations, training, improving community relations, maintaining morale, managing emergency operations and improving firefighters’ fitness.
“It’s been going very well — very positive,” she said.
Welch, who will celebrate her 22nd anniversary with the department in October, has been working diligently on the community relations aspect of her job since her promotion. The CERT meeting on Sunday was one of four meetings to provide a “refresher” course to CERT volunteers and encourage participation from new, interested parties.
Last weekend, the discussion covered how to perform light search and rescue in the event of a disaster or local emergency. Participants learned how to size up the situation in a damaged home, how to search for victims, safe techniques for removing injured neighbors and when and where not to act.
The department and participating agencies sold emergency preparedness kits, a bag from the American Red Cross that people can use to store valuable documents and magnets from the Los Angeles Department of Aging that can be placed on a person’s refrigerator to notify first responders of any medical issues that an individual may have. They also told the audience about Alert LA County, which sends notifications to cell phones and e-mail addresses when emergencies occur.
The meeting was the third installment of the emergency planning series. A fourth meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to noon at the Park La Brea Activity Center on Sept. 23, and speakers will tackle triage, victim handling and medical treatment. The event is free.
Welch said community outreach is important during disasters and local emergencies. During such incidents, the fire department can get busy quickly, and the department relies on communities to be resilient on their own until public safety personnel can arrive, she said.
“It’s huge,” Welch added.
She said the refresher training, which was originally crafted through a discussion between her and Battalion 18 volunteer coordinator Larry Bogatz, may become an annual event. However, the department launches various campaigns throughout the year to create awareness and offer information, Welch said.
The department once had an entire unit that provided outreach, but the program lost its funding approximately 20 years ago, she said. Welch said disaster preparedness personnel conduct outreach programs, and nonprofit MySafe:LA does its best to fill in the gaps.
“We all partner together,” she added.
Following next year’s CERT meeting, the department will turn its attention inward. Welch said her personal goal is to improve training and fitness at the stations she oversees.
“This community piece is huge, but if I don’t have a group of firefighters who are well-trained and fit, we can’t really provide a service to the community,” she said.
Welch referenced the upcoming Fire Explorer program at Station 94 in the Crenshaw District. During the training program, young adults age 14 to 20 will receive basic levels of training to prepare them for life as a firefighter, she said.
“The fire department’s getting ready to hire next year, so we’re putting those wheels in motion,” Welch said.
In the meantime, she will continue to get to know her coverage area and get to know community members. Welch said a lot of the effort is to plan for a major emergency, if and when one occurs.
“It’s much more positive to meet people when they’re not in a crisis,” she added.