Firefighter of the Month

September 2021

Kurt Earnst

Why did you become a firefighter?

My dad and my grandpa were both volunteer firefighters where I grew up. I spent many a night at the station when my dad was watching me and had a call to go on. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a firefighter. A year and a half after I moved here I met Jim King playing basketball. He said I could join Long Beach.  This department gave me the opportunity to realize a boyhood dream. To serve with the men and women of this Department these past twenty-three years has been the greatest honor of my life.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

Being first on the scene of a full arrest and being all alone as everyone else was at another call. The man looked like something out of a Halloween scary movie. Panic was replaced by training and I went to work. Others got there soon thereafter and we were convinced he did not make it when we put him in the ambulance. Going to training the next day I was still depressed convinced we had not been able to save him. To my surprise, Dave Albers greeted me saying “there is the hero” letting me know the guy made it. It confirmed to me that we truly do  make a difference doing what we do for this Department.

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

Always have an escape plan for your family in the event of a fire or emergency.

August 2021

Dan Sells

Why did you become a firefighter?

  1. A cliché but true…to give back to the community.


Long Beach is where my wife’s family settled, she grew up and her Mom still resides today. Long Beach is such a great town with so much to offer that I thought why not return the favor to all that it has given me.  

2. The earth and I just circled the sun for the 40th time so I couldn’t think of a better time to live out a childhood dream.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

Having the opportunity to assist the State Fire Marshall in determining the origin of a suspect house fire.  

The task to unravel, restore and to examine a fire scene post-fire was an exhausting but rewarding experience that I’ll never forget. Who knew that a fire could leave behind so much information thru its own behavior that one can determine its point of origin and how it spread.

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

 can’t reiterate this enough…  please purchase and install a Carbon Monoxide detector.
CO is such a silent killer that shouldn’t be ignored.

These days, you can easily purchase a “dual” detector that monitors for both – CO and smoke.

So what’s stopping you to get one?

July 2021

Larry Wall

Why did you become a firefighter?

37 years ago I was driving to pick up a pizza in a violent rainstorm.  As I came up over the hill on Chastleton and Oriole Trail I saw my brother John and numerous other firemen out in the torrential downpour responding to a fire call of down power lines on Oriole Trail.  I knew most of the people on the scene having grown up here.  I couldn’t believe their dedication and service to the community.  I called my brother and asked him if I could join.  Although he told me they had a strict rule against allowing numbskulls to become members, they made an exception.  I signed up and never looked back.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

In 37 years, I’ve had too many memorable experiences to count.  One of the most eerie was what we call “The Doll House Fire”.  There was a significant fire at a house on LaSalle Trail.  The owner had a huge doll collection-> I’m talking about hundreds of dolls from small dolls to darn near life size dolls all around the house.  We put the fire out and then went in for salvage and overhaul.  When we went into the house there were hundreds of dolls with melted faces and features were staring us down.  Quite an experience.  If any of you get a chance, ask my Brother John about our dear friend and fellow firefighter Joe Casey and the dog he saved at the fire.

The most tragic? Finding a deceased woman at a house fire at Stop 16 many years ago.

All and all the most memorable experience has been fighting fires alongside some of the most talented and dedicated people on earth.  This I can tell you has been my “most memorable experience.”

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

Smoke alarms on every floor and outside of bedrooms save lives. One of the first things I do during Size up is listen to hear a smoke detector…unfortunately many homes either don’t have them or don’t maintain them. From a firefighter standpoint my “tip” would be use and maintain your personal gear, it’s what separates you from life or death.

June 2021

Megan Applegate

Why did you become a firefighter?

It’s a natural instinct to drop what I’m doing to help those in need regardless of the day or time. 

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

It was right after the 4th of July parade and I had someone tap my shoulder to grab my attention. It was someone we had a medical call for a few months back that took the time to thank me and our department for all we do.  

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

Have an escape plan in the event of a fire. Go over that plan with your kids and other family members.  Where will you all meet if you have to leave the house immediately?  Window rope ladders for two story homes can save a life and are important to have.

May 2021

Rick Dziak

Why did you become a firefighter?

The politically correct answer is to give back to the community and the desire to help my friends and neighbors.  But let’s be real,  I joined the Fire Department for the same reason everyone else did.  You get to ride on a big red truck.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

Several years ago we had a fire on Oriole Trail.  The Fire was in a second story bedroom.  We made entry encountering heavy smoke and flashover conditions. Our training kicked in and we made a text book knock down of the fire.  This prevented further damage to the home.  I realized then the reason why we train and the importance of training.

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

My favorite tip is to get into the habit of sleeping with your bedroom door closed.  Studies have shown that if a fire breaks out somewhere else in the home.  Having the door closed can give you time to escape or be rescued.

April 2021

John Kearney

Why did you become a firefighter?

Eleven years ago my wife and I decided to relocate to Long Beach from Lincoln Park as full time residents.  Shortly there after I was introduced to the LBFD by a friend Jeff Bartlett.  For me, the membership to the LBFD provided a way to serve our community while gaining both fire fighting and medical skill sets that will last me a life time. As a bonus, serving Long Beach with a fantastic group of like minded professionals.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

July of 2013 LBFD, under the leadership of Dave Albers, was called upon by the Michigan City Fire Department and the Mayor of Michigan City to help in the body recovery of a six year old boy who had disappeared into a  deep sink hole that had formed on a sand dune on Mount Baldy at the  shore of Lake Michigan.  Our LBFD responded to help multiple local, state and civilian organizations dig/search for the young boys body.  After four and a half hours, the limp body of the boy was found and carefully removed from the massive excavation site.  After a very solemn drive back to our station to reflect on this tragic event we were soon informed by LaPorte Dispatch that faint vital signs were discovered and the Boy was expected to survive and make a good recovery, much to our amazement!  This remarkable story of survival is now known as the “Miracle on Mount Baldy”  An event I can never forget.

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

On both fire and medical calls it is paramount that all responding personnel exercise personal and scene safety. We owe it to ourselves, our Families, fellow members and the victims/patients we are serving.  We are fortunate at LBFD that through rigorous training, strong leadership, proper PPE and mutual care and respect for our fellow members we can continue to experience safe call response outcomes.

March 2021

Tom Yemc

Why did you become a firefighter?

Years ago, I was looking to expand my community involvement.  One night in 2004, there was a grass fire across the street from my house.  I went out and watched the LBFD extinguish the fire.  A few months later I joined the LBFD to give back like those that fought the fire that evening.  It was a great decision as I have discovered a passion in life I never knew I had.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

There have been many memorable experiences helping our community during a medical/fire crisis.  Early in my LBFD career, I was part of the team that worked the Hacienda restaurant fire.  This turned out to be a 12+ hour event with multiple fire departments.  I learned to use most of the equipment on the fire truck that evening and built skills that prepared me for many future fires in the community which I have fought. 

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

It is important to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of your house.  Check batteries often and replace these units (CO detectors have a 5-7 year lifespan; smoke detectors have an 8-10 year lifespan) as these devices can save your life and those of your loved ones.   

February 2021

Michael Martinez

Why did you become a firefighter?

I wanted to give back to the community and help others in need that may not be able to help themselves. I just wanted to be part of the greater good.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

My most memorable experience was helping extinguish the structure fire on Oriole Trail back in September 2020. We were able to apply all the training we work on every Monday night but also working as a team was a great scene to witness.

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

We should always sleep with our bedroom door closed. A closed-door can slow down the spread of flames, improve oxygen levels, reduce toxic smoke and decrease temperature if a fire breaks out in your home.

January 2021

Mike Szczepaniak

Why did you become a firefighter?

In 1991 at a school function with my children, I was approached by a Captain on the Fire Dept. and he asked me if I wanted to join. I had no idea what he was talking about.  Being from a family that always promoted helping other people, I decided I would join. It was the one of the best decisions of my life. The training, learning, and friendship is a great example of Long Beach Community.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

As a member of the Department, the Christmas Day fire (years ago) on Lake Shore Drive was my most memorable experience. The people in the house were burning Christmas wrapping paper in the fireplace. With the extreme cold and strong wind off the Lake, everyone was covered with snow and ice. It was a long slow process to put out the fire. The main house was lost, and it damaged the house to the east of it. The damaged house had to be torn down later.   

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

Beware of long slender candles being lit, and not watched. They can be very unstable and fall over from vibration, a door slammed, or the wind. Never leave long slender candles alone, and not monitored. They are really a fire hazard.   

December 2020

Chris Pollock

Why did you become a firefighter?

I thought I was  joining the fire department so I could drive the fire truck!  Little did I know I would be part of so much more. The opportunity to serve the community with my family and all the friendships I’ve gained over the years has been fulfilling.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

I feel my most memorable moment was going into my first structure fire scared out of mind but having my dad go in with me was reassuring.

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

Not to take away from the importance of smoke/CO detectors as they are very important for everyone to have. I always had my daughters use a fire extinguisher every year so in case they ever needed to use one in an emergency they would be prepared. 

November 2020

Brian Wright

Why did you become a firefighter?

I became a firefighter to help serve the community that I grew up in. I love having the chance to be there for someone during their time of need and interacting with the people of the community.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

Being able to share friendships with the people on this department that have the same passion for helping their community, along with the training opportunities I have been able to take part in.

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

Change your smoke detector batteries when you change your clocks, don’t play with matches, and only you can prevent forest fires!

October 2020

Bart De La Barre

Why did you become a firefighter?

I became a LBFD firefighter because I think everyone should do something for the community they live in. 

              

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

My most memorable experience is actually most memorable experiences.  Those are the Firefighter I/II certifications I have seen our members earn.  The time and effort they put in during our classes makes their achievement special to me.

              

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

The best fire safety tip I can think of is to have a WORKING smoke detector outside every bedroom and at the top of stairways.

September 2020

John Wall

Why did you become a firefighter?

Back in 1979, George Kassal, a Long Beach Firefighter walked into the yard of a house we were renting at Stop 29 on Loma Portal.  He was soliciting for the annual fund raiser and asked if I’d be interested in becoming a firefighter.  I went to the next meeting and was hooked.  I’d say the opportunity to help people during difficult situations was the motivation to become a firefighter.

What is your most memorable experience as a member of LBFD?

There are many memories that compete for the top spot.  Humorous ones like when a fellow firefighter was leaning over a bathtub in a house where a dog had succumbed in a fire and I goosed him, which sent him flying.  Other more serious ones like the time a small child had a seizure at the beach, and I held him all the way to the hospital in the ambulance.  He made it OK, but it was a little hairy to say the least.  I received a very nice letter with a picture of the child fully recovered from the family.

What is your favorite fire safety tip?

I don’t think there is any more sage advice for homeowners than to have and maintain smoke detectors in their homes.  Change the batteries every year like clockwork; they really do save lives!