Call of Duty
The firemen of the South Bay share a special and important relationship with the cities they serve. From answering medical calls in Manhattan Beach to dousing wild fires in the hills of the Peninsula, their immediate response to an urgent call could mean the difference between life and death. Out of uniform, many of these brave individuals engage with their communities on a deeper level, whether donating their time and resources to philanthropic causes or simply enjoying a South Bay lifestyle to the fullest with family and friends. Rightfully private and incredibly humble, most of these men would be content getting the job done without much fanfare. We went inside the station (and out) to get to know some of these guys better. Here are their stories.
- Written byDiane E.
Captain Phil Schneider and Crew
Los Angeles County Fire Department
Station 106, Rolling Hills Estates
There are a total of 170 Los Angeles County fire stations, with a vast amount of resources. So vast that if there is a fire on Catalina Island, Palos Verdes firefighters are picked up by helicopter and transported to the island within 30 minutes. That should not be surprising, given that four members from Fire Station 106 also serve on the department’s California Task Force 2, an elite, worldwide urban search and rescue team that recently deployed to Haiti, New Zealand and Japan.
“My crew and I are a family, and we rely on each other,” shares veteran captain Phil Schneider. “Many of us bring years of experience from other busy stations across the Los Angeles basin. But we have completely different challenges on the Palos Verdes Peninsula with brush fires and over-the-side cliff rescues that require extra training and regular drills. On average, we respond to two calls per month that involve rappelling off of cliffs with ropes and rescue systems.”
Station 106 is one of six on the peninsula, with a total of 30 firefighters, including the chief. They rotate three shifts so there are 10 personnel on duty at all times. When the alarm sounds, the trucks are out the door in one minute or less, responding to medical rescues and fire-related emergencies. “Most of the fires that we are called out on never make it to the media because of our quick response and the short time it typically takes to extinguish them,” says Schneider.
Station 106 serves others well beyond responding to the toll of a fire alarm. Every year, the firefighters take to busy street corners with outreached boots and hearts, seeking donations for a national Fill-the-Boot campaign. Their efforts, combined with other participating fire stations, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The Rolling Hills Estates company has also been involved in several other community causes, such as the Los Angeles district attorney’s 20-year Rescue Youth Program—a volunteer program for firefighters to mentor disadvantaged kids and to discourage gang participation. Though the program was put on hold this year due to lack of funding, many young lives have been touched by Schneider and his staff. “We have taught kids about being good citizens, family values and good work ethics, while building on core team values, since everyone really needs each other to succeed in life.”
“Many of us get together off duty to play on a Fire Department softball league. I also have a passion for youth sports and kids and have been a Palos Verdes Little League baseball coach for many years. Coaching is so important to me that, when I can, I try to schedule some of my shifts around it.”
“We get a lot of calls for horse rescues. One of the most unique ones was when a horse somehow ended up in a swimming pool. Because of trees and houses, we could not get a helicopter in to lift it out. So we drained the pool with our truck pumps and then put dirt in it to build a ramp so the horse could safely walk out. We have to be creative on the spot!”
The Door is Open:
“We have an open door policy at the station and give tours for schools, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and anyone who is interested. We welcome the public and encourage visitors to stop by.”
Three of a Kind
John Dolmage, Tyler Wade and captain David Shenbaum
Manhattan Beach Fire Department
“I really enjoy just working with people,” says fire captain David Shenbaum of Manhattan Beach Fire. “I enjoy the job because it gives me the opportunity to work with great people, not only in the fire station but also in the community.”
Shenbaum has always had an interest in helping others. He originally was a Los Angeles County lifeguard as well as a member of the ski patrol at Mammoth Mountain. In the early 1990s, though, he chose to pursue a career as a firefighter. He entered the South Bay Fire Academy, where he met John Dolmage—a fifth-generation firefighter. They both ended up working in Manhattan Beach together. Several years later, a young, part-time reserve named Tyler Wade joined the fire department, and Dolmage and Shenbaum took him under their wing. It was the beginning of a friendship that’s lasted many years.
“It’s great, any place that you could work with some of your best friends—and socialize with them off the clock—just makes for a stronger working environment,” says Shenbaum. “You know they’ve got your back, and you know their character. It just puts a smile on your face when you see your buddies sitting alongside you; it’s just a good feeling.”
His department does their best to give back to the local community. He noted that they often host dinners to help raise funds for local charities. “In our daily life, whether we’re firemen or off duty, we try and find ‘the need’ … to step up and pay it forward.” Shenbaum also continues to work as a lifeguard, and he’s now been working with the department for 24 years.
Firefighting runs in the family for engineer/fireman John Dolmage; both his father and grandfather served as firefighters in Los Angeles. “I just grew up around it, and I knew it was something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Dolmage. Because of his experience, many of the firefighters at Manhattan Beach Fire tend to look up to him. He’s helped a number of aspiring firefighters advance themselves in their careers, and he’s established a number of close friendships with his fellow Manhattan Beach firefighters—in particular Wade and Shenbaum.
“We live there so much of the time, we just become brothers with a lot of the guys.” At the end of the day, though, there is one thing in particular about being firefighter that Dolmage sincerely enjoys: “I like being able to help people every day.”
Fireman/paramedic Tyler Wade always knew that he wanted to be a firefighter. He joined Manhattan Beach Fire as a reserve when he was only a teenager, and he’s worked hard to advance himself within the department. He hasn’t gone it alone—with senior firemen Dolmage and Shenbaum always there to provide him with guidance and direction.
“These guys pretty much raised me,” says Wade, “I’ve been in this organization since I was 19; I’m 30 now. We spend a lot of time there , and you learn how to mature in a house full of men really fast. Your mom’s not there to do things for you. You learn to be a man quickly—these are the guys that taught you to do that.”
From working with the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation to providing surf lessons for inner city children to building homes with Habitat for Humanity, the Manhattan Beach Fire Department does their best to give back to their community as much as possible. Charity work aside, Wade also mentions that he enjoys providing guidance to up-and-coming firefighters in the Manhattan Beach Fire Reserve program, much like John and David did for him years ago. “I’m just really lucky and blessed to be able to go to work every day with some of my closest friends, both on duty and off duty.”
On the Move:
David: “We’re usually down on the boat. (John and I are partners on a boat.) We’ll (all three of us) go lobster diving together, or spearfishing down on PV. Lots of us go skiing together too. We also like a few local watering holes, like Hennessy’s. Also, at least once a year, we do a big bicycle bar hop; we start in South Redondo and work our way up toward Manhattan. Good times.”
Tyler: “Most of us here within the South Bay Fire Departments are really involved in the ocean and competitive ocean sports. A lot of us are free divers and spear fishermen. I do a little free diving with those guys. In the summertime, I do a lot of paddleboarding to stay in shape for surfing, and I’ve been lucky enough to do the Catalina Classic Paddleboard Race. My grandpa was a chief in the Navy, and he was really involved in scuba diving and free diving. He was also a paddler and a surfer too. So I grew up swimming and diving with him.”
David: “Well, I have three little girls, so my days are full with taking them to school and picking them up. But I’m a big-time skier (I’m a big fan of Mammoth), and I enjoy diving too—whether it’s scuba diving or free diving. I’ve also picked up Krav Maga (Israeli martial arts).”
John: “Probably nothing we could put in writing.”
Pay it Forward
Redondo Beach Fire Department
“I work on the ladder truck—that’s the long truck with the big ladder on top,” says Jeremey Sisante, with a laugh. He’s a fireman/EMT at Redondo Beach Fire Department, and last October marked his fifth year with the department.
Sisante takes pride in giving back to his local community, and he mentions that his firefighting work has been very rewarding. “This is going to sound cheesy, but I always knew that helping people was my calling.” He actively participates in many of Redondo Fire’s charity events, including their annual fundraiser spaghetti dinners. (The proceeds help support local families whose homes have burned down.)
But Sisante’s outreach to the community connects on a deeper level. Several years ago, when his younger brother, Ray, was diagnosed with leukemia, he organized a fundraising event to help pay for his medical bills. Capitalizing on Ray’s love for music and dance, Sisante contacted some of his brother’s friends in a San Fernando Valley hip-hop dance crew and asked them to put on a showcase at the Avalon Nightclub in Hollywood. Sisante concluded the evening’s festivities with a firefighter bachelor auction, which was apparently quite popular.
The event was a success, and Sisante was able to raise enough money to help pay for his little brother’s medical expenses. (His brother recently received a bone marrow transplant and is currently on the road to recovery.) Sisante is just happy to be able to give back. “Our duty doesn’t end when we get off shift; it’s continuous. So anything we can do to give back to the community, we do.”
Welcome to the Station:
“My first day on the job as a probationary firefighter, I was told I needed to take a picture and send it to my family. They made me get in all my gear and pose by the fire truck. As soon as I did that, they drenched me with water—a sort of ‘Welcome to the firehouse.’ If they don’t mess with you, they don’t love you.”
“The most recent place we’ve been hanging out is Friends of the Vine … you walk into the place, and you feel like you’re in somebody’s living room. They have a sign that says, “There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met.” It’s a cool little wine bar. It’s funny; you have a bunch of firemen, and you’d think we’d all drink beer and hard liquor, but we usually go down there and open up a bottle of wine and just kind of hang out.”
“First thing I’ll do when I’m off duty is jump on a beach cruiser and head on down to Hermosa, and I’ll have breakfast at Hennessy’s. It’s just a nice thing to do for me to decompress when I’ve had a long set. And yeah, I just kick back and enjoy the beach.”
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