McDonald adds, “We’re talking six people: four in the pump, two in the ambulance.
“We had a cpr before you got here this morning,” McDonald tells me, “a really big guy. Kerin, who is our paramedic, was there, the medics on the ambulance were there, and the rest of our pump crew. We had guys doing compressions, we had guys doing ventilations on him, we had a guy pushing drugs through the IVs on him, and we had a person running the monitor and shocking him when it said to. I was talking with the people in the house, writing his medical history down, writing all his medicines down, calling his doctor. Everybody is working, and when it’s time to move this big old guy — and they’re deadweight when they’re in that state — it takes a lot of people to get him on a backboard, get him on a gurney, get him out, get him loaded up, get him gone.”
Over the station intercom, a male voice says, “Chief’s in, chief’s in.” Captain McDonald hops up and scurries away. Captain Carlson laughs and calls after him, “Run, Jon, run,” then turns to me and explains, “Our battalion chief is here, and we’re supposed to have pants on after noon.” Although Carlson is already dressed in yellow fire pants, McDonald is still in blue department-issue athletic shorts.
“A battalion chief,” Carlson explains, “is basically second-level supervisor. Jon and I, as captains, are the first level. A battalion chief has five to seven stations in his battalion. This particular chief is stationed out of Station 5, at Ninth and University. And we’re in the 5th Battalion, so he’s B-5 — Battalion Chief Five. When we go to large incidents, he’ll take command from whoever has it. Say we go to a fire, Jon and I, and maybe engine 18. That would give us two pumps and a truck. We’d be pretty busy. The first one of us that gets there will take command. Then the battalion chief will come in, the commanding captain will make a face-to-face with him, and he’ll take command. That frees you up to go do other things. In a really big fire, we may call in additional resources and he’s in charge of tracking those resources and asking for more that may be needed.”
Captain Carlson gets up to go greet the battalion chief, who leaves the station after two or three minutes. Then Carlson returns and motions for me to follow him to the apparatus area, which occupies the south half of the building. The engine, or pump, is parked closest to the living area, the truck is next, and, beyond that, against the south wall, the reserve pump. Carlson leads me to a five- by five-foot map on the wall nearest the pump.
“This is a great area to work in. Any one of these,” he points out this station and stations in Golden Hill, City Heights, and Hillcrest. “This is the heart of the city and it’s the place to be, in my mind. The interesting thing is, you can feel change in this district more than anywhere else. I’ve felt North Park, the last three or four years, turning around. People are starting to really take care of the neighborhoods. Two or three years ago we were going to stabbings and shootings and beatings constantly. We’re hardly seeing them anymore. The last year it’s been so quiet as far as violent crime goes. We still get the occasional beating or stabbing, but not anything like it used to be. Two or three years ago, New Year’s Eve, you could hear automatic weapons all over the place. This last year, I heard a couple of shots. It’s kind of cool to watch the transformation happen and see all of the new development along University Avenue. When I was first starting on the fire department, in 1971, I came to this station to train. Then I worked here for three years after that. That’s just when North Park was starting to turn bad. There were a couple of developers, they started tearing down these little houses and putting eight-unit buildings on those 50 by 100 lots. They just tacked them up and they were garbage. They packed so many people into this area, without any infrastructure. The transit system wasn’t in place for them. There was no work around for them. The streets were too narrow. There wasn’t enough parking. You would have three or four really nice-looking bungalows and on either end the shittiest-looking box of an apartment house. All the people that had been here for 30 years started getting mugged, and the robbery rate went up. They would get scared and leave, the developers would buy their lots for next to nothing, and, boom, another eightplex would go up.”
Carlson runs his finger along the nearby freeways on the map. “In addition to medical aid and fires, we do rescue work — extracting people from wrecks — and that evolves into a medical aid. We have the 805 corridor just a few blocks from here, and the 8, and the 94 not far. We spend a lot of time on those freeways responding to traffic accidents.
“Our first-in district,” Carlson continues, “extends from Juniper to El Cajon Boulevard, Texas to about 40th Street. So this is our baby right here.” He indicates those four streets on the map. “Pretty much anything that happens in this area, if we’re not committed to another incident, we’re going to end up going to it. Every station has an area which is kind of their home turf, and we want to be the first there if there’s a fire within that district. If we have a fire at 36th and Polk, it’s a sin to not be there first. If one of these other guys comes in and beats you there, shame on you. You take a little friendly heat for that.”
The fire engine we’re standing next to is not Station 14’s rig. They borrowed it from Station 5 this morning because it has an extra seat for me. Station 14’s pump has only four seats.