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Firefighters Rekindle Public Relationship

May 14, 2000|GREG RISLING

As they do every year about this time, Los Angeles firefighters opened their station doors Saturday to entertain and educate thousands of Angelenos.

The annual "Fire Service Day" gave the public an opportunity to mingle with firefighters and watch demonstrations of their work.

Helicopters buzzed overhead and dropped water, while children romped around wearing plastic fire helmets and fiddling with fire engine sirens. Behind Station 88 in Sherman Oaks, people cheered firefighters jumping from a building onto an inflatable air pack.

Fire Department staff also distributed information about disaster preparedness and employment opportunities.

Six-year-old Michael Santos of Studio City waited anxiously with his parents for 20 minutes to hoist and shoot a stream of water from a fire hose. His tiny hands could barely control the hose, but he managed to douse a patch of grass 40 feet away.

"It's really powerful," he said. "You have to be pretty strong to use them. I wish we had one of these in our backyard when it gets really hot."

Although the event is mainly for the public, city firefighters are equally rewarded. Contact with residents is usually limited to emergency responses where firefighters have little time to chat, LAFD Capt. Steve Ruda said.

"We want to turn a hand wave into a handshake," he said. "This gives us an opportunity to build a stronger relationship with the community. It's a great feeling to have people come up to you and tell you how they appreciate our efforts."

In Hollywood at Station 27, area residents arrived early for a pancake breakfast. Proceeds from the event will go toward a new museum next door to the station that will chronicle the department's storied history. It also will be home to a monument honoring firefighters killed in the line of duty. Work is expected to be completed next year.

"It's going to be a place where people can learn about the department's past," LAFD Capt. Thomas Gikas said. "We had a lot of people who wanted to know more about the project, and today we had that chance."

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