CPF District 8 represents the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, Local 112.
Remembering March 23, 1998 – 20 years later
It’s been a typically busy start to 2018 for the 3,300 firefighters, paramedics, inspectors, dispatchers, and pilots of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112.
On March 23rd, it was truly my honor to attend and speak at the 20th anniversary of one of the saddest days in the history of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
On Monday, March 23, 1998, an LAFD helicopter rushing a critically injured girl to the hospital crashed in Griffith Park, killing three LAFD members of the rescue team: 33-year-old Firefighter/Paramedic Michael Butler, 33-year-old Firefighter/Paramedic Eric Reiner and 48-year-old Apparatus Operator Michael McComb. In addition, the young patient, Norma Vides, died in the crash, bringing the total fatality count to four on this tragic day.
LAFD pilot/Firefighter Steven Robinson and Crew Chief Firefighter Silgen sustained major injuries that day, but they prevented this from being an even worse tragedy.
The helicopter, known as “Fire 3,” was transporting the young girl from the San Fernando Valley to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, when mechanical problems caused the tail rotor to malfunction. As a skilled pilot, Steve Robinson was able to move the helicopter away from all residential areas to avoid greater harm to the general public. He attempted an emergency landing in Griffith Park, but tragically, the helicopter went down a full half-mile away from where the tail rotor was ultimately found, and the injuries and fatalities that took place were unavoidable.
While unable to work in the field due to the injuries that he endured, Firefighter Robinson chose to continue to contribute to the City of Los Angeles as a dedicated LAFD Dispatcher. Sadly, Pilot Robinson passed away 17 years later on August 9, 2015 after serving the people of Los Angeles for nearly 30 years as a firefighter, pilot, and dispatcher. Due to the severity of his injuries from this helicopter crash, Pilot Robinson’s passing was ultimately declared a line of duty death.
Before this crash in 1998, the LAFD performed more than 200 airlift rescues per year and had not experienced a fatal airlift accident in 24 years.
March of 1998 was a tough month for Los Angeles City Firefighters, as this helicopter crash killing three LAFD/UFLAC members was actually the second incident in two weeks where the LAFD had lost our own in the line of duty.
We had just lain to rest Captain Joseph Dupee, who was killed while fighting a fire in a commercial structure in South Central Los Angeles on March 8, 1998. It was a very dark period for our department and our city. This crash from 20 years ago and the previous LODD earlier in the month have continued to serve as bleak reminders of just how dangerous our jobs truly are.
As we look back on these moments, we honor all of these men for laying down their lives in the attempt to save others.
The courageous crew members of Fire 3 paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, bravely trying to save the life of a young patient and LAFD Captain Dupee was killed while heroically performing his job.
Their sacrifices represent what is best about the Los Angeles Fire Department and our men and women in the field.
We commemorate their selflessness by committing ourselves to living how they lived and answering the call of duty each and every day for our communities.
Our fallen brothers are deeply missed and never forgotten. God bless them and their loved ones. May they rest in peace.
CPF Convention in Los Angeles
United Firefighters of Los Angeles City is a proud member of the CPF and we are honored to host the biennial CPF Convention in Los Angeles from May 2 – May 5, 2018.
I am proud to be a strong supporter of the labor movement and a union firefighter in the LAFD.
But as we all know, every fire department in California has at least a few of the naysayers. Those who wonder, “Why do I pay monthly dues to UFLAC?” And, “Why are we members of the IAFF and the CPF?”
To answer these questions, all you need to do is look at March of 1998 in the LAFD.
We all know that we have dangerous jobs as firefighters. It’s what we signed up for. But in this profession that we have chosen, we can still work each and every day to make things better, safer and more secure for our members.
It is the labor movement – UFLAC working in conjunction with the CPF and IAFF – that has brought us the Firefighter Bill of Rights, cancer presumption laws, line-of-duty death benefits for family members, safer working conditions, a secure retirement and so much more.
It is the labor movement in Los Angeles that has fought to protect our dispatchers as sworn LAFD positions so we maintain the expertise that our members have gained from their time in the field and give them an opportunity to continue to contribute to the people of our city when they are injured on the job like Pilot Robinson was 20 years ago before serving as a dispatcher for more than a decade.
And it was the labor movement, in this case the CPF, which looked out for the young children of one of our firefighters who lost his life in the helicopter crash that day. When 33-year-old Firefighter/Paramedic Eric Reiner lost his life in the crash, he left behind his wife and four young children. Just a few years ago, I was honored to help present a check from the California Fire Foundation to young Lucas Reiner to help him pay for his college education.
The fire family, which includes your local union members, the CPF, and the IAFF, looks out for one another. We work together to make sure that federal, state, and local elected officials are working together to support public safety and our firefighters throughout California.
That’s why UFLAC is proud to be a part of the California Professional Firefighters and we look forward to hosting the convention in May. I hope to see many of you there.