By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Hasting was set to graduate from trainee to firefighter the following week. “All the guys on the crew accepted that kid. He had become one of them.” The day before the graduation ceremony, Red and his crew were on a fire when they got the news: David Hasting — Tiny Squally — had been killed in a drive-by shooting. His body was found next to a Dumpster in an alley.
“I got the word and called David’s grandmother, who told me arrangements were being made and that expenses would come to $8,000. I told her not to worry about it, that me and my crew had been excused, that we were walkin’ off the fire line. Told her we was on the way home to bury our soldier.”
Before he got back to the city, Red made a few calls. “We had somebody go get the body and take care of everything for $5,000.” There remained only one more call to make; Red had a special request to make to the Forest Service.
The morning of the funeral was clear and warm. People were outside, walking to bus stops, watering the small plots of green in front of their houses, clustered in groups on corners. The rise and fall of conversation and laughter punctuated the steady rumble of traffic. Then silence, like a fall of dominoes, began to spread along the street. David Hasting’s cortege was moving slowly past, headed toward the church. All activity came to a halt. People called out to those still inside to come and see; women in the upper stories of apartment buildings along the route leaned out of open windows; kids jostled one another to get close to the curb, and gang members in baggy jeans and immaculate sneakers came up out of their signature slouches. Nobody spoke as two engines, manned by their entire crews and flanked by LAPD officers on motorcycles, set a deliberate pace. The wreath-covered hearse bearing Hasting’s body came next, followed by two more fully crewed engines and another brace of motorcycle officers. Bringing up the rear of the procession, a Lincoln Navigator limo carried the members of Red McIntyre’s crew. Every man was in full uniform, and each of them wore a banner across his left shoulder with the legend “In Memory of a Fallen Soldier” and the dates of David Hasting’s birth and death. He was 19 years old.
When they reached the church, six of the men formed an honor guard at the entrance, and Red and five other crew members carried the casket inside. Many of Hasting’s fellow gang members — both male and female — attended the service, taking up rows of seats at the back of the church and filing slowly past the coffin to pay their final respects. But no one dropped a bullet into the folds of the silken lining; no one draped a blue-and-white kerchief across Hasting’s folded hands as do-or-die symbols of gang solidarity. This was a final salute to a firefighter and every person there knew it.
The fire is out after four days of nonstop battle. He wants only to shower and grab a few hours’ sleep now. He thinks of all those commercials where winning athletes slice a paid-for few seconds out of their triumph to announce that they’re going to Disneyland and his lips twitch into a half-smile. No Disneyland, no weeklong cruise down the coast for him or any other guy on the crew. It’s fire season; they have to get ready for the next round.
We meet up with Stanton Florea, fire-information officer for the U.S. Forest Service, at a 7-Eleven located near the corner of Osborne Street and Foothill Boulevard, a barren stretch of land with a disturbing history: This is where Rodney King was beaten into submission by four LAPD patrolmen. There used to be a service station next to the 7-Eleven, but it was torn down after too many tourists with a taste for the sensational stopped to gawk. The condo from which the beating was videotaped is still standing.
We’re to go from this location into the Sequoia National Forest, where Red McIntyre is part of a crew fighting a sleeper fire that has been burning for three and a half days. Florea explains that a sleeper fire is one that begins in a single tree due to a lightning strike or some other factor, then smolders and flares up later. A ground crew is needed to drop the tree; a helicopter showering water won’t always get the job done, Florea tells us. “I worked a lot of sleeper fires in the eastern Sierra before I got on the Angeles. They’re fun.”
We’d planned to go up to the Dawson Fire (which is what this sleeper has been tagged), but Red missed the call to the fire and is back at his post at the Valyermo station, where he is an engine operator as well as a firefighter. We follow Florea in the mint-green U.S. Forest Service station wagon along the 138 to the Pearblossom cutoff. Up ahead is a low-flying helicopter with a long, mosquito-like extension dangling from its belly. Florea pulls over and walks back to our car, gesturing at the copter.