Firefighters Tackle Old Problems in New Ways

With Safer-At-Home orders in place, local fire departments are adapting to new hazards.

File photo
Firefighters are busy responding to emergency calls but are now outfitted in gear to keep themselves and others safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Glendale Fire Chief Silvio Lanzas has not had a day off since the city declared an emergency in early March due to COVID-19. There has been an increase in emergency calls at homes in addition to the normal number of calls the department responds to on a regular basis.

“The more people are at home, the harder it becomes from a rescue standpoint,” Lanzas said. “More people are cooking. Scalding is the number one injury to children under 5. Make sure to turn the handles of your pots.”

But Lanzas is keenly aware of the Safer-At-Home orders that are in place and knows the community wants to help safety personnel.

“The biggest help the public can be to us is to stay healthy, to stay home when asked,” he said. “Listen to the public health officials. We all want to get back to normal, to get ready for brush fire season.”

Firefighters are holding up, he said, while responding to multiple calls every day where people are sick.

“We’re wearing masks and goggles into every call,” he explained adding that the city’s fire department has worked to modify its own work protocols to increase safety. These include eating and exercising in shifts, and cleaning and disinfecting more frequently.

County and city fire officials emphasized the need to pay extra attention to potential fire dangers as well as other possible hazards, such as pool safety, as temperatures start to rise.

“Mom’s on a conference call and Dad’s in the shower and the little one loved the pool over the weekend,” Lanzas said outlining a potentially disastrous situation. “[Everyone needs to] be extra cognizant and present in our homes at this time.”

Los Angeles County Fire Dept. Public Information Officer Chief Roland Sprewell also urged an added focus on pool safety as it gets warmer.

“Kids tend to get into things,” he observed. He also advised folks to be careful when taking on new projects: “Putting up those ladders, using tools you haven’t used before.”

Local and county fire officials are concerned about a recent rash of residential fires that resulted in six fatalities. Sprewell explained that most fatal fires happen when people are asleep at night and that these fatalities were unusual as they occurred mid-day and mid-afternoon and notes that household goods can act as an accelerant.

“What we build houses and furniture out of now 20 or 30 years ago you’d have 15-20 minutes to get out. Now we see the flash over phase of these fires in three to five minutes. We recommend that people use this time at home, while we’re being safe at home, to figure out how to be safer at home,” said Sprewell. “Does your family have a home safety escape plan? Use this time to practice your plans. Human nature makes us want to go out the same way we came in, but the nearest window may be our best option. You may not be able to get to the front door. Can you get out of the nearest window? How does the window open? Are there security bars on the window? Teach your children how to get out and pick a place to meet up at in case of an emergency.”

Los Angeles County Fire recently published a family guide for planning for fires and emergencies (including a coloring book), Sprewell added.

“The Los Angeles County Fire Dept., in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Fire Department Foundation, is pleased to offer the Family Instructions for Rapid Escape (F.I.R.E.) guide and coloring book so families can make their homes F.I.R.E. ready and learn how to safely escape.

Do not wait for fire to strike to think about escape. Planning ahead can save your life!”

Visit for details.

Both fire agencies are supported by non-profit foundations: Glendale Fire Foundation and the Los Angeles County Fire Foundation help fund tools and supplies to support the fire organizations.

“The men and women on the front lines will keep working,” Lanzas said. “Some have been exposed and gotten sick and returned to work. [When this is over] we’ll still be in the 9-1-1 business, and it will be nice to shake hands again.”