When firefighters showed up to a routine medical call at an apartment building north of Downtown Long Beach Monday night, they were met by a loud blast that they thought sounded like a gunshot.
That assumption wasn’t without context. About two weeks earlier, the same engine crew, No. 3, had been at the high-rise retirement home just east of Downtown where one of their colleagues was shot to death while responding to a pre-dawn explosion.
Fearing they were under fire again, the firefighters scrambled for cover.
“Understandably, they dropped their gear and jumped on their rig and got out of the area,” Long Beach Fire Department Capt. Matt Dobberpuhl said.
Police rushed to the scene in the 1400 block of Chestnut Avenue, and, after about 40 minutes, deemed it was safe, Dobberpuhl said. The bang was likely an illegal firework, Long Beach Police Lt. Robert Woods said.
The firefighters, still waiting to help the person with a medical emergency, returned to the apartment building where they discovered the gear they’d dropped had been stolen, Dobberpuhl said.
In all, thousands of dollars worth of equipment, including a portable defibrillator and a first-aid bag, were missing, according to Dobberpuhl.
Although the gunshot appears to have been a false alarm on Monday, the fear of being attacked is a reality that firefighters now live with, according to Dobberpuhl. The possibility became painfully real in Long Beach on June 25 when someone started shooting firefighters at the Covenant Manor, a high-rise apartment building for low-income seniors on Fourth Street.
The gunfire killed LBFD Capt. David Rosa, grazed firefighter Ernesto Torres and wounded a resident at the building, according to police.
Authorities have charged 77-year-old Thomas Kim in the attack, alleging he set off an explosion in his apartment and then started shooting when firefighters arrived.
Dobberpuhl said firefighters did the right thing on Monday, explaining that they’re not equipped to deal with gunfire.
“We don’t wear body armor on every call,” he said. “We don’t carry firearms other than the people assigned to our arson detail. People on engine companies aren’t armed.”
Firefighters have body armor on their rigs but don’t wear it on every call, Dobberpuhl said.
Despite the loss of gear, Dobberpuhl said firefighters in this case were lucky because the medical emergency they came to treat ended up being relatively minor. In a worse scenario, someone could have died.
“If we perceive a threat to our people, we’re going to remove ourselves from the scene until it’s declared safe,” he said. “And that could ultimately cost somebody.”
This story was updated to clarify that firefighters heard one blast, not multiple ones.
Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @jeremiahdobruck on Twitter.
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