Bonin Plays Key Role in Return of Engine 69

By SUE PASCOE

Editor

 

In May 2011, when I worked at the Palisadian-Post, I was chosen honorary fire chief at Station 69 (on Sunset at Carey). The plaque read: “In appreciation of your support to the LAFD and the community as a dedicated newspaper reporter.”

I had spent a lot of time at Station 69, especially to gather information about fires and traffic accidents. The firefighters can’t release names, but once I found out there was an accident and possible injuries, I could then call the LAPD West Traffic division, tell them there was an accident and ask for details. A bit of a tedious process, but the firefighters were always helpful. I soon knew the captains on the A, B and C shifts, and spent time in their kitchen and office chatting—in no hurry to go back to work, listening to stories from real-life heroes.

Early in 2011, Councilman Bill Rosendahl brought LAFD Fire Chief Millage Peeks to the Post. Peeks explained to our editor, Bill Bruns, why he was about to eliminate Engine 69 and take 12 firefighters out of the station as part of a budget-cutting campaign that would save the city $200 million over three years.

Peeks said the LAFD had used a computer software program (Apparatus Deployment Analysis Module) to research the number of emergency calls to every LAFD station, and that Station 69 ranked near the bottom in the number of deployments generated by 911 calls. Thus the impending cuts.

On paper, Peeks’ reasoning made a lot of sense, and we could see that Rosendahl was trying to get the Post to support the chief’s strategy. But we elected not to write an editorial.

Fortunately, Rosendahl was a smart man who sought people out, listened to them—and heard them. When he asked what I thought, I suggested he go to Station 69 and speak to the firefighters. He did, and he went from supporting Peeks’ proposal to fighting it. He was supported by the Pacific Palisades Community Council, led by Janet Turner.

Resident Daphne Gronich (who now heads the Fourth of July parade committee) collected 650 signatures on a petition, which read: “The City Council should reject any proposal which puts our community members, homes, businesses, schools and public places at greater risk due to the elimination of locally-based emergency response personnel and potentially greater response times.” About 150 residents even staged a protest in front of Station 69.

Rosendahl told the City Council that he could not support the cuts because Pacific Palisades is geographically isolated; therefore, it would be difficult for nearby stations to help provide a timely response, especially with the planned road construction on Pacific Coast Highway and the 405 freeway. He said the same thing to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky also wrote the mayor, opposing the plan.

But in mid-May 2011, the City Council voted 13-2 in favor of the cuts. Engine 69 was closed on July 5.

Former Station 69 Chief Frank Lima, who worked here six years and is now president of the firefighters union, recalled last Saturday, “Mike Bonin, who was Rosendahl’s chief of staff, was already fighting for the engine’s return before he was a councilman.”

Bonin, who was elected in 2013, never gave up the fight to bring Engine 69 back.

LAFD Commander of Operations Joe Castro told the News that one of his jobs is balancing politics with operation. He said he informed Bonin earlier this year that an engine in Hollywood was coming back on line, and Bonin pushed for 69 to be next.

This decision was finally announced on Saturday, during a community open house at Station 69.

Assistant Chief Pat Butler told the News, “It’s good to have the engine coming back. It’s long overdue.” He spoke about the city starting to restore resources, noting, “This is the fourth engine to be restored.”

Although Pacific Palisades still has a low call rate, the reason this engine was restored was based on 1.) isolation—the distance it takes to get resources to this area and 2.) wildland interface—homes abut brush areas.

“I’m really happy to restore this one, because I felt we were particularly vulnerable,” Butler said. “The size of the houses here, the winding, narrow streets and the traffic congestion to reach this area are all factored.”

Said Bonin: “Restoring Engine 69 will help first responders reduce the spread of fire, increase the speed of rescues, further limit property damage, and most importantly, save lives.”

“Councilman Bonin never gave up the fight for this engine to be restored,” Lima said. “This engine restoration is a sign that our city leaders continue to realize the critical importance of restoring the LAFD and making it a top budget priority.”‘

Bonin and Lima should be congratulated for their efforts. Have the feeling that Bill Rosendahl is smiling? I do.

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