The dichotomy of SoCal living was apparent at this year’s Hope for Firefighters event. “Seems it never rains in southern California” – except on a day when thousands are expected to flood Hope Street for the annual LAFD food festival. And as the rain dowsed the pavement, the bucket brigades turned out for a drought inspired “dry” muster.
But the dampness didn’t put a damper on the festivities. The downtown crowd still came out in force to devour the firefighter prepared specialties. Most of the 20 booths ran out of food before they ran out of customers. When the clouds finally cleared, it was apparent that the sun was once again shining on the Widows, Orphans & Disabled Firemen’s Fund.
The muster games are a favorite of the event sponsor’s employee teams. In a normal year they are soaked from inch-and-a-half overspray and fire bucket sloshing. Things were a bit different this time with concerns that “wet” muster events might bring unfavorable scrutiny. Instead the teams used buckets filled with cement and the hoselays from the handcarts ended with the hose still dry. If the smiling faces – even after the intense competition – were any indication, the participants didn’t seem to mind the modifications. The team from Brookfield eventually took the top honors, followed closely by CommonWealth and One California Plaza.
The challenge for the firehouse chef’s this year was to beat the three-time champions from Fire Station 88. The crew from Sherman Oaks pulled out all the stops and wowed the crowd with their “Back to the Future” inspired booth, complete with clock tower and an authentic DeLorean time machine. While 88’s walked away with a well-earned “Best Theme” trophy, their tasty Pulled Pork and Jalapeno Mac & Cheese was edged out by 29’s for best entrée.
All the station crews were busy preparing weeks in advance of the event. There were menus to plan and props to build. Ralphs/Food4Less, the title sponsor this year, helped to make the pre-planning process a little bit easier. They provided gift cards for all the firehouse participants, making their markets one-stop shopping for all the food and supplies.
“Those fish tacos were absolutely amazing!” said food judge Neal Zevnik, of FS 10’s south-of-the-border specialty. Joining Zevnik at the judge’s table were renowned chefs Megan Logan of Café Pinot, Ernesto Uchimura of Plan Check, Genevieve Gergis of Bestia and Bret Thompson of Pez Cantina, the after-party sponsor. It was a tough choice but the panel finally decided on FS 29’s BBQ Ribs and Garlic Rolls as best entrée and awarded 21’s Pumpkin Rolls & Root Beer Floats the best dessert prize.
Perennial LAFD spokesman Steve Ruda, along with Mary Beth McDade from KTLA, called the play-by-play throughout the day. ABC 7 News’ Garth Kemp and Gary Leonard from the Downtown News were on scene to report on all the activities. Providing musical enjoyment were Lea Carranza singing the National Anthem, the Hawkins H.S. band marching in the parade, and the Emerald City band covering popular tunes.
In addition to the hard work of the firehouse crews, there were many behind-the-scenes partners and collaborators. Much appreciation to sponsors US Bank, Alaska Airlines, IBEW Local 11, CBRE Global Investors, Taslimi Construction, CIM Group, Interscape Construction and Universal Services of America. LAFD Fire Apparel was able to fulfill the shopping requirements of the crowd and donated a portion of the proceeds to WODFF. Of course, the dedicated corps of LAFRA volunteers came out in full force. Emily Pizinger, a regular volunteer and WODFF beneficiary, spoke to the crowd of her experiences and how she was able to bring in Bay Alarm as a new sponsor.
The annual Hope for Firefighter festival could not happen without the cooperation of the downtown business community. Many thanks to the year-round work of the Hope Committee led by Heather Ross and Steve Robinson.
By Dave Wagner