By Aaron Blevins, 9/13/2012
The aroma of flapjacks filled several blocks near West Third Street and South Alta Vista Boulevard on Sunday, likely summoning local residents to Los Angeles Fire Department Station 61 for a hearty breakfast.
The firehouse, along with the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition and the First-In Fire Foundation, hosted the inaugural “Welcome to the Heart of Our Firehouse” pancake breakfast last weekend, aiming to raise money for the cash-strapped station.
“When you walk into the heart of a firehouse, you walk into the heart of America,” said Lyn Cohen, the founding president of the civic coalition and the foundation.
The event drew approximately 500 people and raised approximately $3,000 for the station, which will likely use the funding to finance needed projects, tools and wellness equipment at the local station. It drew several local officials, including LAFD Chief Brian Cummings, Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) and City Councilmen Tom LaBonge, 4th District, and Paul Koretz, 5th District.
Cummings said events like the pancake breakfast help build resilient communities, and provide an additional opportunity for the department to promote public safety information.
“Opportunities like this really build that community part,” he said. “I think it’s essential for public safety in the city of Los Angeles.”
Cohen’s husband, Marc, also helped create the civic coalition and the First-In Fire Foundation. He said the initiative to benefit fire stations began in 2001, after he and Lyn returned from Ground Zero in New York City.
After meeting with then-LAFD Chief Bill Bamattre and learning about the department’s Adopt-A-Fire-Station program — which Marc said is the “best kept secret in town” — the foundation was born in 2008, and it began looking to meet the station’s needs.
Marc said the partnership has paid dividends. The group raised enough funding to install a security gate on Alta Vista Boulevard, which enabled the department to keep ambulances outside, he said. Before, firefighters would scramble to move vehicles when a medical run was reported.
“It was like a walking OSHA violation,” Marc added.
He said the organization has also assisted with irrigation and tree trimming. It also donated a storage shed, exercise equipment, an ice machine and washers and dryers. Marc said the work has been appreciated, and the initiative has spread.
“It’s been great,” he said. “We’ve helped roll out these Adopt-A-Station programs at nine or ten stations in the city. This has been our model station.”
While the goal was to raise needed funds for the station, it also served as a “friend-raiser.” Wilshire the Fire Dog performed, teaching the many children in attendance how to call 911 (by barking three times), eat healthy and exercise (by fetching toy fruit and fake dumbbells), and stop, drop and roll.
“He’s just a great tool to teach the little ones and families about fire safety education,” his handler, firefighter Ryan Penrod, said.
However, the pancake breakfast also had somber undertones. With 9/11 two days away, officials placed ribbons on a tree planted outside the fire station in 2002 in honor of David Weiss, a firefighter from the Fire Department, City of New York, who died in the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The tree was planted as part of the Hollywood Beautification Team’s “United We Plant” campaign, which aims to plant a tree at or near a fire station for every person who died in the tragedy. Lyn said only four trees remained to be planted — as of Sunday — until the goal is reached.
“It’s been a long journey,” she said. “[The trees are] a symbol of the resilience of communities beyond tragedy.”
Feuer said that pulling the community together in such a way can make neighborhoods feel like small towns in a big city like Los Angeles. He said that is essential for public safety in the city.
“We have to look out for each other, and that’s what this event says to me,” Feuer said.
LaBonge agreed, saying that the breakfast was all about “community, community, community.”
“We have a special one here in the Park La Brea/Miracle Mile area,” he said. “It’s such a great event. I’m just pleased to be here and see this. This is great.”
LaBonge referenced the emergency preparedness information being doled out by members of the Certified Emergency Response Training team.
“It’s always good to remind us of that,” he added.
The public safety aspect of the event and the importance of the local firehouse was punctuated by a medical run midway through the event, when a Station 61 ambulance responded to an allergic reaction at 8th Street and Genesee Avenue.