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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Van Nuys

City Fire Station 39 Celebrates 80 Years of Service to Community

August 01, 1999|AGNES DIGGS

Friends and neighbors stopped by Saturday to honor the San Fernando Valley's first 24-hour, Los Angeles Fire Department station staffed with paid firefighters.

For more than 80 years, Station 39 has answered the call, and the celebration remembered three who gave their lives.

Twenty years ago, Firefighter Lynn Hazlett was killed while battling a blaze. His son, John, who was born two weeks after his father's death, made his first visit to Station 39 on Saturday to witness the dedication of a memorial plaque to his dad and two other firefighters.

"I never knew him," Hazlett said. "All I have are other people's memories to remember him by."

Hundreds of guests toured the station. Out front, the streets were lined with generations of fire engines.

With 18 people on duty each day, Station 39 has the highest staffing level in the city, Capt. Chris Oelrich said. While his staff served hot dogs, hamburgers, sno-cones and popcorn to visitors, another division covered their area.

"We're conditionally available," Oelrich said. "If something big breaks, we would roll."

Visitors quickly got a true-life demonstration when the Hazardous Materials Team received a call. Smiling faces turned serious as the men swept their gear and truck from the display area and drove off, lights and sirens on.

The station began serving the community in 1917 with volunteers who used a hand-drawn hose at 415 Virginia Ave. The address was later changed to 14415 Sylvan St. Paid firefighters replaced volunteers in 1919.

The present fire house opened July 25, 1939. Since then, it has had at least one face lift, and air conditioning was installed.

The three firefighters honored Saturday were:

* Benjamin "Tex" Gause, 42, who Sept. 9, 1940 became the first San Fernando Valley city firefighter to die in the line of duty. Gause died when a speeding motorist collided with his Fire Department car on the way to an emergency call.

* James Catlow, who Nov. 6, 1955 joined a deadly three-day battle against a La Tuna Canyon brush fire. Catlow, engulfed in fire and smoke, stayed at his engine's pump controls to supply his company with water. He also saved the life of a fellow firefighter.

But Catlow suffered third-degree burns and died six days later. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor.

* Hazlett, who died in a smoke-filled North Hollywood industrial building May 12, 1979. Firefighters thought a sprinkler system had nearly doused the blaze, but during cleanup a huge fireball erupted in a storage area containing chemicals.

Toxic fumes drove firefighters out, but Hazlett, 42, was disoriented in the smoke, his air supply ran out, and he suffocated. An arsonist, whom investigators believe was paid to start the blaze, was never caught.

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