By Sue Pascoe
Editor Photos by Lesly Hall
With the return of Engine 69, there are now three shifts (A, B and C) and six captains at the Pacific Palisades fire station on Sunset at Carey Street.
Each shift has two captains, and with the exception of Captain Tom Moore, who has been in the Palisades for several years, the rest of the crew are new to our community.
A Platoon: Captains Darryl Mitchell and Tony Valdez
Darryl Mitchell has worked for the fire department for 33 years. Before moving to Station 69 four months ago, he spent four years in North Hollywood at Station 89.
During his career, he’s been assigned to many difficult situations, including the 1992 civil unrest. The riots started in South-Central L.A. and spread across the metropolitan area over a six-day period after a jury acquitted four officers of using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King. There was widespread looting, assault, arson and killings during the riots and estimates of property damage was more than $1 billion. Fifty-five people were killed and 2,000 injured.
Mitchell was also on duty when the 1994 Northridge earthquake hit.
A Thousand Oaks resident, he has a daughter Leah, who is in her third year at Cal State Channel Island, studying to be a teacher. He has an 11-year-old son Cy, who plays football and basketball at school.
When he’s not at the station, Mitchell builds custom cars and enjoys drag racing.
“I am humbled by the care and support we receive from Palisades residents,” he said.
Anthony Valdez has held the rank of firefighter, engineer and now as captain in his 32 years of service with the LAFD. He has served at 15 fire stations and, since making captain, his special duty assignments have been in-service training and the Brush Clearance Unit.
He was present at the First Interstate high-rise fire, the L.A. Library fire, Baldwin Hills fire, the 1992 riots, several deployments to brush-fires outside the city, including around Malibu.
“Become familiar with the ‘Ready, Set, Go! Program,’” Valdez said, and explained: “This program utilizes firefighters from the LAFD’s Disaster Preparedness Unit to instruct individuals who live in high-risk wildfire areas and the wildland/urban interface how to best prepare themselves and their properties against fire threats.”
The program works in a complementary fashion with the federal program Firewise, and other existing state wildland fire public education efforts.
“All work toward the common goal of creating a fire safe environment to live, work and play in,” Valdez said.
B Platoon: Captains Robert Bates and Tom Kitahata
Robert Bates was hired by the LAFD in 1987 and has worked at stations all over Los Angeles. Before com- ing here, he spent seven years at Station 98 in Pacoima.
“I’m glad to be at Fire Station 69,” Bates said. “Let residents know that they can stop by if they have any questions regarding fire education or if they just want to say ‘Hi,’ or meet us.”
In 1992, he was called upon to help fight the fires during the riots, and the next year he was assigned to the devastating Malibu brush fire. In 1994, he was on duty when the Northridge earthquake happened. Currently he lives in Orange County in Yorba Linda.
Bates, who lives in Yorba Linda, stresses “It is important for residents to evacuate, when requested to, if a brush fire is threatening their neighborhood.”
He also reminds residents to test their smoke detectors monthly and to change the batteries once a year.
Tom Kitahata has been with the LAFD for more than 28 years. He has worked in Hollywood, Echo Park/Rampart, South Central, Westlake district, Van Nuys, East L.A. and Downtown.
“Like many of my fellow firefighters at Station 69, I have participated in the Northridge earthquake aftermath, the civil disturbance of 1992, and the Calabasas and Malibu fires in the ‘90s,” said Kitahata, who was also assigned to fight wildland fires in Northern California, the Sierras, Los Padres, Cleveland and San Bernardino mountains. Kitahata is also a member of FEMA’s California Task Force and One Urban Search and Rescue Team. He was deployed to New York City after the World Trade Center attacks.
In 2005, he was sent to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and a month later to the same area for Hurricane Rita, which was considered a stronger storm than Katrina. He was also sent to Texas after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Kitahata and his wife Cheryl live in Thousand Oaks and have three children: a son who attends Illinois
Tech, a daughter who’s a senior at Westlake High School and an eighth-grade son.
“Whether it be brush fires in our wildland urban interface areas, earthquakes, floods (if it ever rains again), or other disasters, you should have a plan for evacuation, what to take with you, where to go, and who to call,” Kitahata said. “Make a point to meet your neighbors and be friends. When the Big One hits, you and your neighbors may be on your own until help arrives.”
C Platoon: Captains Erik Schneider and Tom Moore
Erik Schneider, who joined the Los Angeles Fire Department in 1986, spent most of his career in South L.A. and downtown before coming to Station 69 in August.
Last month he helped fight the Chimney Fire near Lake Nacimiento, which burned 46,344 acres in San Luis Obispo County. Nearly 4,000 personnel were deployed, along with seven air tankers, 16 helicopters, 46 bulldozers and 69 water tenders.
Here in the Palisades, “The thing that surprises me most about the area is that the streets are so tight it really slows our response time,” Schneider said. He has also noticed how close residents are to brush interface. “If people live in an area that is close to the brush, they really need to be diligent about brush clearance.”
Schneider has resided in Thousand Oaks for the past 25 years.
Tom Moore, who also lives in Thousand Oaks, has been with the LAFD for 36 years. He came to the Palisades in 2014 after working with the Hazardous Material Task Force in San Fernando Valley, and the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force in Hollywood.
Through different assignments, he’s been to structure and brush fires, worked during the riots in 1992 and in the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake, and was on the scene after the train crash in Chatsworth that saw 25 fatalities.
Moore and his wife Amy have three children. Kelly works as a nurse in Ventura, Joey is a studio prop master, and Joey is still a student.
When he is not working, Moore likes road and mountain cycling, golf and fishing.
The one piece of advice he’d give Palisades residents is to “call 911 if there is an emergency. Do not call the station directly, which could cause a delay in the proper resource being dispatched.”
The Captains invite you to stop by Station 69 and say “Hi.”