San Marino Fire Department

Photo by Mitch Lehman / TRIBUNE
The San Marino Fire Department recently installed new tempered-glass bay doors to replace portals that were more than 30 years old and becoming potential safety hazards.

A local resident driving past the San Marino Fire Department might get the impression that firefighters have left the station’s bay doors open, but that is not the case. In reality, the six old floor-to-ceiling portals — three each in the front and rear of the station — were recently replaced with tempered-glass entryways.
The doors’ wood predecessors had been in service for 30 years, it was estimated, and had increasingly become unreliable, with maintenance costs approaching several thousand dollars per year. The tragic prospect of a piece of equipment being unable to leave the station due to a malfunction became more worrisome.

Photo by Mitch Lehman / TRIBUNE
San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda speaks at a meeting of the Rotary Club of San Marino. It was at a similar event that Rueda first mentioned the peril that COVID-19 could present to the community.

Though the city recently recorded its second death as a result of COVID-19, San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda said key indicators reflect a slowing of the novel coronavirus.
Daily hospitalizations in Los Angeles County due to the virus have decreased this month by 45% from the peak of more than 2,200 in mid-July.
“According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the decreasing number of daily hospitalizations is one of the best indicators that our efforts to slow the spread of the disease are working,” Rueda said Tuesday.
San Marino has recorded 69 cases of the virus since March.
“As you know, we are not out of the woods,” said Rueda, sounding a familiar refrain. “It’s important that we keep doing our part by following the best health practices so that we can continue to see these numbers decline.”
Rueda was brought into the bout early and has been following the situation since early January, when the first cases were reported in China.
“It was the first inkling of an unknown respiratory condition,” said Rueda. “That is when I started to pay attention.”
Rueda was familiar with the notion of a pandemic, having been a public servant when the outbreak of SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — was first reported in November 2002.
“Back then, as we were working through some table-top exercises on SARS, we were all thinking ‘This could never happen,’” Rueda said with an increasing tone of seriousness. “But when I started to hear about the COVID-19 news coming from Wuhan [China], it made it very real.”

Portions of City Hall underwent sanitization last week after a contractor for the city tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after being inside the building.
City officials said the contract employee, who does work for the city’s Planning and Building Department, received the test result on Tuesday, May 19, and had been to City Hall twice the prior week, visiting the lobby area and the front counter used by the department. All Planning and Building staff members were subsequently tested for the disease and the building underwent sanitization by the San Marino Fire Department.

Charred grass is seen where a tiki torch atop the decorative post caught fire and was knocked to the ground on Monday. Photos courtesy the San Marino Fire Department

A time honored holiday tradition taken up by a young San Marino resident involving open flame tiki torches along Lorain Road took an unfortunate turn Monday when the San Marino Fire Department was called to the scene in order to investigate a small grass fire that resulted when one was knocked over. In the spirit of the season, the SMFD worked with the boy’s family to set safety precautions in order to allow it to continue through Christmas and a safer solution will be coordinated for next year.

The teenage boy, a resident on the street, helped restart the tradition in 2015 and requested a fee from homeowners to install hand-painted, 5-foot decorative metal torches, resembling candles, with a small open flame at the base of their property on the street side of the sidewalk, according to Fire Chief Mario Rueda. When the SMFD responded, they learned that the boy had placed around 80 torches at homes from Sherwood Road to St. Albans Road.

“The Fire Department took no joy in meeting with the young man and informing him that unfortunately the current tradition is unsafe and cannot continue as is,” Rueda told the Tribune, adding that he wasn’t looking to make the department seem “like the Grinch.”

Rueda reported that the boy had a plan to light the torches in the evening and they would extinguish by themselves around two hours later.
“He does this every night and I guess everybody likes it,” said Rueda.
Unfortunately, there was no plan for supervision of the flame at the time. On Thursday, Rueda said the department would be issuing a 7-day permit to allow the condition to continue through Christmas, with a number of conditions including a limited time window, required supervision of the flames and an agreement that the torches are subject to inspection by the department.

“Generally open flame is probably the most risky situation because it provides a direct transmission if it contacts combustible materials,” said Rueda. “It’s direct transmission to basically an uncontrolled fire. It’s something we pay attention to and it’s one of the reasons that really even unsupervised candles in the home can be risky. They should never be left unattended.”

Rueda added that although there was fond support for the tradition, an open flame without supervision leaves a possibility a number of incidents to occur.

“Lots of bad things can happen,” said Rueda. “What if someone’s walking down the street, stumbles into it, gets the oil on them, they’re on fire? Somebody’s kids get involved in mischief and tip it over? There are just a lot of things that can result when those devices are not directly supervised.”

Rueda noted that although unique traditions are important to honor, the department ultimately seeks to provide a watchful eye in that mission.

“We pride ourselves on being part of the fabric of the community,” said Rueda. “We value tradition and preservation of the way of life here in San Marino, but when it comes to safety of the residents, we put that above all else.”

RAGING INFERNO: A large column of smoke rises from a fire at 1745 Sharon Place that was caused by “carelessly discarded smoking material,” according to San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda. Photo courtesy of Michael Sean Chang

A fire that broke out in a detached garage at 1745 Sharon Place on Saturday, November 9 and was responded to by over 25 personnel from multiple fire departments on was determined by investigators to be caused by “carelessly discarded smoking material,” as Fire Chief Mario Rueda reported to the Public Safety Commission on Monday evening. No injuries were reported.

The blaze produced a “large column of black smoke” and was reported by numerous residents around 4:30 p.m. As part of the Verdugo Communications System/Unified Response—which the San Marino Fire Department participates in—the SMFD was joined by fire departments from San Gabriel, Alhambra, Pasadena and L.A. County to battle the flames, which also threatened large trees in the area. The fire was confined within 15 minutes, before it reached the main house and the neighboring homes.

“It extended into the garage and burned the back end of the garage but they were able to keep it from getting into the main house, so it was a good, successful effort and a big hot fire but they put it out,” Rueda told The Tribune.

Rueda shared with the commission that the Verdugo Communications System/Unified Response, an agreement set between San Marino and 10 other regional cities in 2005, allows for the SMFD to tackle large events and simultaneous incidents that would require more additional assistance than the department’s six firefighter/paramedics.
“The San Marino Fire Department would not be able to put that fire out by itself, or if we did, we might put it out two or three houses later, which would not be something we would choose to do,” said Rueda. “Unified Response actually answers some of the difficulties we have as a single resource fire department.”

The garage of this home at 1745 Sharon Place was ignited by “carelessly discarded smoking material,” according to the SMFD.

Moving into fall and winter with a higher chance of Santa Ana winds, San Marino residents supplied with numerous power circuits by Southern California Edison (SCE) face possible power shutoffs in the event that weather creates a risky environment for a possible fire threat.

Last year, the San Marino Fire Department participated in SCE’s San Gabriel Valley Wildlife Mitigation and Grid Resiliency Workshop, which contained a presentation on SCE’s “Power Safety Power Shutoff Program” (PSPS). The program serves as a “proactive de-energizing of power lines power in high fire risk areas when extreme fire conditions present a clear and imminent danger to public safety,” according to a report by SMFD to City Council. The conditions are determined by SCE weather experts and SCE crews, who take condition observations in the field.

According to SCE, the program is in response to California’s “new normal” year-round fire season. By powering down the lines in risky conditions, the program serves to inform residents ahead of time and reduce the risk of wildfires by eliminating sources of ignition.

San Marino has 12 circuits that are included in the program, according to San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda. Through the program, potentially affected customers will receive a first notification two days ahead of a possible shutoff, with a second notification one day ahead if weather conditions persist. A third notification will come when power is shut off. And finally, a fourth and final notification will be sent when weather conditions return to safer levels and power has been restored. It is also possible that “erratic or sudden onset of conditions” may affect SCE’s ability to provide advanced notice.

Rueda shared concerns for the notifications to energy dependent residents who may have medical needs for power.
“We have nine energy dependent residents that we are aware of,” said Rueda. “Some of them have made themselves known to our city so we know who they are and we can check on them.”

Although SCE does not publicly provide the names of energy dependent customers, a letter was sent by SCE to them and Rueda said approximately five residents replied back.

Even without the program and shutoffs, San Marino “regularly experiences power outages,” according to Rueda.
“Residents should really prepare themselves for those eventualities, not only from this shutoff program, but from loss of power due to earthquakes or other disasters,” said Rueda.

Rueda recommended a generator for backup power and visiting cityofsanmarino.org/government/departments/fire for additional handout tips and information.

Kimia Hassibi, back left, and Business President Madeleine Haddad with the t-shirt cannon, [Ti]rone, at the San Marino Police and Fire Departments’ public safety barbecue last Saturday.
Titanium Robotics just checked off one of its events from their off-season to-do list: San Marino’s police and fire department Public Safety Barbeque, which took place on Saturday, October 12 from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon. Overall, it was a great event packed with fun through the means of learning. Along with several team members taking shifts, Titanium Robotics’ t-shirt cannon [Ti]rone made a grand appearance at this event. Several t-shirts were launched for the enjoyment of the barbeque’s attendees, and several people had the opportunity to drive the robot and learn how it functions. Along with the remarkable displays put on by the robotics team, San Marino’s police and fire department provided several presentations to both demonstrate how they perform their duties and educate the community in regards to public safety procedures. These spectacles included the landing of the departments’ helicopter, much to the delight of the event’s guests. Entertainment and several food options were also available to all those who attended. With the Great California ShakeOut steadily approaching, the robotics team has been occupied with constructing and assigning signs for the high school’s teachers to use during the event, along with any other emergencies that may occur throughout the school year. Titanium Robotics has also been avidly prepping for San Marino High School’s homecoming game and parade. The team will be proudly displaying [Ti]rone once again during the parade, and afterwards, during the much anticipated football game against La Cañada. It would be much appreciated for all who can to either come and help out during these events or show their support amongst the audience. So, please come out and support the team! Regarding long term off-season projects, the team will be prototyping and experimenting with different mechanisms to gain more knowledge and experience in working with, and building new structures. The hope is to apply these newly founded concepts when brainstorming designs later this school year during the team’s build season. Another goal also being to gain the ability to utilize and retain a more extensive and broad understanding of the team’s and robots’ options. All of these projects are being addressed during work sessions, which are currently taking place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 3-6 in the afternoon in the robotics room (308). The team would love as many hands as it could get, so plan on coming out to help whenever you can!

Titanium Robotics is a team consisting of over 100 students, mainly from San Marino High School, who come together with a common interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Students learn from professional engineers and mentors to build and compete in the annual FIRST Robotics Challenge with a robot of their own design. Programming, electrical work, computer-aided design, and business management are all run by student representatives, making the entire organization student-led from start to finish.

SMFD Firefighter/Paramedic Jeff Tsay guides a young resident in extinguishing a fire during National Night Out with SMFD vehicles on display at the fire department during National Night Out. Rafael Najarian Photos

What may have been the largest crowd in the history of San Marino’s participation in the National Night Out program brought what some estimates believe to be approximately 500 community members to City Hall on Tuesday evening.

“I think it went very, very well,” San Marino Police Chief John Incontro said on Wednesday morning. “It was a great turnout and there were a lot of people that I had not met before. We thought it was a great event.”

Established in 1984, National Night Out is an annual community-building campaign that promotes partnerships between police and the community they serve. San Marino is relatively new to the concept and routinely invites the fire department to take part in the festivities.

“The relationship between police and fire is very important to this community,” Incontro said of National Night Out, which was held in the block that includes San Marino City Hall and the San Marino Police and Fire Departments.

Community organizations were on hand to promote their activities and young people were able to enjoy snacks and partake in face painting and a fire extinguisher demonstration, among other attractions. A movie was also was shown for the children.

San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda extended his appreciation and gratitude for Incontro and the SMPD and echoed the program’s goal of “building trust within the community.”

“Police and fire are on the same team, we just wear different uniforms,” Rueda told The Tribune. “We work together closely, we support one another, we respond on the same calls and we have the sane desire to protect and serve our residents.” Rueda also commented that attendance has been on a steady increase and credited a sudden reduction in temperature as a factor for Tuesday’s large crowd..

“This is an exceptional event for our town,” Rueda said.

Nationwide, millions take part in National Night Out across thousands of communities from all fifty states, U.S. territories and military bases worldwide on the first Tuesday in August.

Incontro said that four community members personally volunteered on Tuesday to serve as block captains and that at least twenty more signed up for the city’s Neighborhood Watch program.

“We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish,” Incontro said.

With San Marino’s schools opening next week, the chief also said that his department will slightly shift its focus towards student safety while tightening up on traffic circulation during student commute times.

He also told The Tribune that the city will hold a safety training exercise in the Emergency Operations Center along with city staff and members of the San Marino Unified SchoolDistrict, sometime in early September, that will demonstrate the city’s preparedness.

“We will work through a scenario that will show we are ready,” Incontro said.

A view of a bleeding control kit that is installed behind the front desk of San Marino City Hall. Photo by Skye Hannah

In the event of a situation where one or multiple people require care for sustained wounds, city-owned facilities and local schools are now prepared with bleeding control kits installed by the San Marino Fire Department (SMFD).

According to Fire Chief Mario Rueda, it’s better for the city to have them and never use them than something happening and not having them on hand.

One bleeding control kit contains eight individual kits which can be quickly distributed to people assisting those needing care. Each kit contains a tourniquet, 6” trauma dressing gauze, two gauze rolls, two pairs of large nitrile gloves and a pair of trauma shears. Each kit has easy-to-understand pictures and directions for the usage of each.

SMFD Firefighter/Paramedic Jeff Tsai said the kits can be used in a variety of situations, from a shooting to any event where bleeding must be slowed to preserve life until first responders are on scene.

“Say there was an incident where there was an active shooter,” said Tsai. “This allows eight separate kits to be thrown to bystanders to help with someone who’s bleeding out instead of having one person have to run around.”

Each bleeding control kit contains eight individual kits within that include a tourniquet, 6” trauma dressing gauze, two gauze rolls, two pairs of large nitrile gloves and a pair of trauma shears. The kits are installed at local schools and city-owned facilities. Skye Hannah Photo

Tsai said the prevalence of publicly accessible bleeding control kits in the region came about after the 2013 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport where four people were shot, one fatally. The airport soon thereafter started installing the kits, which are often placed next to Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) for use in assisting those in sudden cardiac arrest.

Currently in San Marino, there is an individual bleeding control kit installed next to an AED at City Hall, the Crowell Public Library and Stoneman School. There are also kits at Valentine Elementary, Carver Elementary, Huntington Middle School and at the school district office, according to SMFD Administrative Assistant Jennifer McGee. Four kits are expected to be installed at San Marino High School. The fire department will soon be installing an additional kit at each elementary school in the health aid office.

San Marino residents Stefanie and Mike Killackey donated the kits to the school district.

“Let me reiterate what I said back in March,” said Killackey, who presented a check to School Board president Lisa Link at March 12 board meeting. “I hope they are never used. However, our community needs to provide a safe and secure environment for every child, teacher and staff member in our district and Stefanie and I knew this was a great step in that direction.”

The Killackeys have two children in San Marino schools. Mike is a trustee on the San Marino Schools Foundation and was a candidate at the 2018 San Marino School Board election. Stefanie Killackey will serve as the 2019-20 president of the Valentine Elementary School PTA.

The SMFD has also conducted trainings with the entire city staff at City Hall, the library and at Stoneman. The training consisted of a Power Point presentation, explanation of kits and hands-on practice work.

“This just gives the public now an option of putting some type of bleeding control on someone who gets injured,” said Tsai.