For those of you that don’t know, when an LAFD firefighter is injured, the entire department and their families become involved. I heard stories through the years about our “fire family” but I never truly understood what it meant until my husband, Justin Lusk from FS 21, was injured on duty.
It was like most weekdays in the Lusk household. Coffee brewed while my 6 year old slept beside me as she often did when my husband was at work. My phone on my bedside table buzzed. I saw the blocked number and thought “another early work call. This can wait until after my shower.” I was eight months pregnant and more tired than usual due to our recent move.
Little did I know I would miss five more calls in the next few minutes. Then our landline started ringing and I knew in an instant something was wrong. I answered immediately and the voice on the other end was familiar and strange at the same time.
“I’m OK” said my husband in a distant, raspy voice. Something was very wrong. The next voice I heard was that of an EMS Captain who explained that my worst fear had come to pass. The roof collapsed during a structure fire and my husband went down with it. He was in the ICU.
Time stood still as the captain informed me of the details. My husband was badly burned and I needed to come to the hospital. He arranged transportation for which I was so grateful because I was in a state of shock. I left my daughter with my mom and began the journey from Camarillo to downtown LA in morning rush hour traffic. The EMS Captain who drove helped me stay calm by sharing stories and making small talk.
When we arrived he escorted me to the ICU. As the elevator doors opened I was overwhelmed by a sea of uniforms. So many unfamiliar faces standing by to show their support. Hands reached out to shake mine and eyes of sympathy looked upon me. Inside my husband was all wrapped in gauze – his hands were covered completely. We hugged tightly and I thanked God he was alive.
I then began to meet some of the LAFD personnel that would become our guardian angels during this difficult time. A chaplain for LAFD reached out his warm hand and explained that he was there to help us and to communicate with all those who would be stopping by. I had no idea how many people would visit that day and in the following days.
I stood by my husband’s side as firefighters citywide shuffled in and out of his room. They offered support and listened to his tale of survival. The most impactful visit was that of his own shift and captain. They had just fought a ferocious structure fire, narrowly escaping their own injuries and witnessed my husband’s fall. Anyone in their right mind would expect them to go home to their families. Instead, they were visiting us. As I reached out to hug his captain I could smell the smoke of the fire. When I looked at his crew of brothers I could see the toll this experience took on them. It meant so much to me that they were there, and to my husband as well. He lit up when they walked into his room – they were bonded in this crisis.
The help we received from the EMS Captain and chaplain was a gift I will never forget. I remember thinking to myself, how do people get through a crisis like this when they’re not part of the LAFD? Who is there to help ask questions, to bring in a chair when you need it because you’ve been standing at the bedside so long, or give a hug and tell you it will be alright when the fear takes over? We received all this and more.
To my surprise, my husband was released from the hospital that night covered in Mepilex and gauze. With a script for pain medication in hand, I was trying to figure out how to get us home and where to fill the script. That is until the men from his station told me that they would drive my husband’s truck home while my husband and I were chauffeured in the 800. They even stopped at a pharmacy to fill his medication for the night.
The following day I received a call from my husband’s captain. He informed me that he was concerned about my husband’s injuries and had made an appointment at the Grossman Burn Center. We learned at Grossman that he had 3rd degree burns that required surgery. My husband spent the next 10 days there going through debriding treatments, skin graft surgeries and hyperbaric chamber sessions all the while LAFD always making sure we were taken care of. Let me just say that there are definitely angels working at Grossman as well.
LAFRA helped me and my daughter stay in comfort at a nearby hotel so we didn’t have to commute daily to the hospital. We continued to receive visits day and night from members of the LAFD. Every visitor seemed to come bearing gifts. It was Thanksgiving week and we even had a huge Thanksgiving feast brought to the hospital. There was enough food to feed all the nurses as well.
As the days passed I was asked several times by members at 21’s what we needed. When they found out about the state of the baby’s room, they told me they were forming a work party. They asked me to pick paint colors. Shortly after my husband returned home the first work party arrived. The A shift arrived fresh off their shift and they came ready to work. Doors were removed and primer and paint went up in both my daughter’s room and the baby’s room. Christmas lights were hung and an enormous Christmas tree was erected in our living room. They even strung the lights for us. My heart leapt with joy at the thought of my daughter having some normalcy for Christmas.
The job was so great it couldn’t be done in one day, so the B shift came to finish the job. Doors were put back, rods and curtains hung, and then the baby’s crib was put together. There’s nothing more comforting to a pregnant woman than seeing her baby’s room prepped and ready. They even washed our vehicles and organized our garage.
Before my husband’s injury he had begun a project of building a changing table, but it sat in our garage unfinished. 21’s took it back to the station and put the finishing touches on it. My husband and I were overwhelmed with the outreach we received and the time and hard work everybody put into helping our family.
Just when I thought we couldn’t possibly receive more help, I was informed that our friend at 21’s started a web page for us on “Take Them a Meal.” People were signing up to bring us dinners. The list filled up so quickly that we had someone coming every night for a month. Each night we met people who wanted to help us. Words can’t express what it feels like to meet a stranger who just drove for an hour to bring you a meal that they cooked for you at home. These meals were elaborate and mouthwatering good. And with each new meal, and hand shake or hug we had a deeper faith in God and humanity – there were days when my husband and I were brought to tears.
One day my doorbell rang and there before me stood a member of LAFD and his family with huge boxes of diapers, baby wash, diaper cream, gift cards and homemade cards his daughters made for my husband. It felt like guardian angels were visiting daily bringing gifts to help our family.
With each visit we healed more as a family and our hearts opened wider with the generosity that streamed in. Some firefighters again arrived at our house with a recliner from the station. They knew my husband couldn’t sleep in his bed due to his injuries. It touched us deeply and my husband slept in his chair every night.
Men came from other stations as well. We couldn’t get over their generosity and goodwill especially during such a busy time of year. You might expect people to be caught up in holiday plans and shopping. Instead they were thinking of us and coming up with ways to help our family.
Miraculously my husband made a full recovery and regained full use of his hands. The friends and members of LAFD transformed our worst days into days filled with awe and lightheartedness. We wanted to share this experience with everyone in the department to pay homage to these outstanding people and also to remind everyone of the great power there is in the brother and sisterhood within the department.
We can move mountains together. We can overcome the worst adversities and come out stronger than before. I’ve seen the greatness of this department with my own eyes. It’s because of this that I can sleep at night with my husband back on duty facing the same dangers. We would welcome the opportunity to give back to someone in need the way the people in the department gave to us. We promise to pay it forward and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
I leave you with a thought to carry with you. Remember to hug your loved ones every day and don’t sweat the small stuff. We never know what may come with each new shift and in a few seconds everything can change. We pray for you all to remain safe and we wish you all a life as blessed as ours.
By Juniper Lusk, LAFD wife