Two members of the Los Angeles Fire Department on Thursday shared the story behind a dramatic rescue of a man who was clinging to the edge of a Brentwood-area high-rise as flames and smoke billowed out.
“A lot of factors lined up for us yesterday,” David Gastelum, an apparatus operator for the Fire Department, said during a news conference a day after the blaze.
He said his crew was wrapping up an incident nearby when flames erupted from Barrington Plaza apartment complex, located at 11740 Wilshire Blvd.
“We could look to the building and we saw a gentleman hanging out of the window with smoke and flames violently coming out,” Gastelum recalled. “Immediately, our priority shifted to a rescue mode.”
He said he and firefighter Garrett Boccara assessed the situation and figured out how to get their truck and rescue ladder close to the man who was hanging on above.
“We trained for these types of situations,” Boccara said.
The firefighters said he got the ladder ready with proper equipment, suited up to handle the fiery, smoky conditions and made sure the passenger compartment attached to the ladder was safe and stable. Then he went up.
“My thought process was ‘get him on top of the ladder as soon as possible and securely,'” Boccara recalled.
He said he had to adapt to the wind patterns and the thick smoke. “There were times we were pulling up where I couldn’t even see the victim,” Boccara said.
He and Gastelum worked to maneuver the ladder as close to the victim as possible until the firefighter was able to speak to him and make sure he was calm.
Boccara saw that the man was comfortable moving about the tiny space available, and asked him to scale over just a couple of feet over. Once he did so safely, the man lowered himself down a three-foot gap between the ledge and the ladder.
Once inside the passenger compartment, the man said he was OK, but thought his girlfriend was still inside the apartment.
Boccara said he first had to get the victim down safely before heading back up. Fortunately, by the time they got down, the man’s girlfriend was exiting the building safely.
When asked how he felt about the cheering crowds below, Boccara said he was just focused on his task.
“There was a lot of adrenalin pumping,” he recalled. “I didn’t hear any crowd cheering. All I could hear was the crackling of the fire and the smoke.”
He added that the man played a big role in his own rescue.
“The guy had superhuman powers. He was on that ledge about a quarter of an inch, half an inch, and he was there for a good amount of time,” the firefighter said.
LA City Firefighters rescue man who climbed out the 6th floor window of the 25-story Barrington Plaza apartments to escape smoke & flames that injured eight people, including a 3-month-old baby. The blaze erupted on the sixth floor of the Westside complex about 8:30 this morning pic.twitter.com/7eXwylrUdP
— Al Seib (@AlSeibPhoto) January 29, 2020
The fire department did not share the man’s name, but said he had been OK after the harrowing ordeal.
In all, 13 people, including two firefighters, were injured in the blaze. It was the second time the building burned since 2013.
Capt. Erik Scott said the building remained red tagged Thursday, but officials are letting in residents who live on the ground level to the sixth floor inside to gather their belongings. No one is being allowed on the seventh floor due to heavy fire and smoke damage, while only fire officials are allowed on the eighth floor.
Scott said officials hope to get residents who live on the 10th floor and above back in their homes by Thursday evening.