LOS ANGELES — It's patrol day for Javier Vazquez and his partner, both firefighter-paramedics with the Los Angeles Fire Department. This day's assignment has the team patrolling the Venice Ocean Front Walk and streets for small fires and medical emergencies.
"We do have a higher call volume not because they are homeless, but because we have more people in the city of Los Angeles," Vazquez said.
They're patrolling the area to prevent encampment fires, like one that took place inside of a tent on the Ocean Front Walk this year. According to the department, encampment fires typically start from warming a tent, cooking or arsonists. That's why Vazquez and his partner are keeping their eyes glued to the area in the LAFD's Fast Response Vehicle called FRV-9. It can operate like a fire engine but on a smaller scale to get through areas such as the Ocean Front Walk and the narrow streets of Venice. The patrols that began in May are helping LAFD in the area, like Vazquez, discover and prevent hazards before they happen by driving through the area and offering a simple "hello."
"This is a small unit, so we have water, we have a hose, we have our turnouts, and we have firefighting capabilities, and we're able to perform some duties," he said. "I'll give you an example. If we have a small fire there at the beach, we're able to put out that fire before it turns into something bigger."
According to Deputy Chief Armando Hogan, about 50% of calls to the LAFD West Bureau are related to encampment fires. Some residents, such as Chicka of Venice, say they are happy to see the vehicles patrol in the area.
"We have had fires with the homeless that want to keep warm, and they do make fires under their tents, and it does cause a problem," she said.
Since the May launch of the FRV-9 patrols, Hogan said the department has come across two encampment fires on the boardwalk. It's a number that he hopes won't increase with the help of patrol teams educating the community on fire hazards.
"We wanted to get resources here to be more of a deterrent to fires being started and most importantly try to catch them at that earlier incipient stage before they were impacting surrounding properties or any exposures where they were creating a greater challenge," Hogan said.
That's why Vazquez said he'll take every opportunity to make conversation while on patrol.
"If we see certain hazards that might become a bigger issue such as a fire hazard, potential to life, health and safety, we're going to go ahead and educate people. We're going to address it," Vazquez said.
As the challenges of homelessness remain within the area, both Chicka of Venice and Vazquez said they remain hopeful that these patrols will bring peace of mind and safety for everyone on this boardwalk.