Ordinary Folks Devote Special Effort to Rescue Crew
The San Fernando Valley is the home of a little-known, elite group of Super Men and Wonder Women, all civilians, who are ready on a moment’s notice to jump into their jumpsuits and respond to almost any emergency.
When an off-duty police officer was fatally shot recently while trying to apprehend a robber in Canoga Park, the California Emergency Mobile Patrol was there with its truck and powerful lights to illuminate the crime scene for Los Angeles Police Department detectives. The patrol was also on the scene when an off-duty San Fernando police officer was shot just before that in a West Valley bar.
When an unidentified body was found on Christmas Day in Granada Hills, members of the group were again called in with the illuminating truck.
When an Alzheimer’s patient disappeared in September, Emergency Mobile Patrol members were out canvassing Brown Canyon and other parts of the north Valley.
When a young woman with Down’s syndrome was missing from her Woodland Hills home shortly thereafter, members were out searching for her.
By 6 a.m. last Jan. 17, members were setting up an emergency command post and scouring the Valley for earthquake victims, transmitting the information to police and fire officials.
Members of the group crawled through Northridge Meadows and other apartment buildings looking for survivors. They routinely assist with traffic control, evacuations, search-and-rescue operations and with lights and crowd control at disaster scenes.
Who are these men and women?
Just ordinary people, according to Emergency Mobile Patrol President Antonio Arizo, 39, a computer specialist living in Granada Hills.
He says the organization has 46 members, most of whom live in the Valley.
They carry beepers so they can respond to police or fire department requests for assistance. They receive on-the-job training for three months, as well as getting medical training in first aid, CPR and other procedures.
Although they are not sponsored by the LAPD, the group uses the Devonshire Division station for monthly meetings and to house its two emergency vehicles.
One of the vehicles is a retired Los Angeles Fire Department truck that was donated to the group by the Los Angeles City Council under the sponsorship of former Councilman Ernani Bernardi.
Donations and fund raisers helped purchase the group’s emergency-communication system, which was also funded by large donations from Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills and Pacific Telesis in San Francisco.
Members also give volunteer demonstrations in emergency preparedness for local organizations and schools.
This is a group that started by accident.
In 1962, a group of volunteers assembled to help police look for a missing person. Once the person was found, someone in the search party suggested that the group stay together for just such emergencies.
They did, and their number has grown, Arizo says.
He adds that the group attracts a cross-section of citizens to its ranks, the only common denominator being an interest in serving the community.
“We have mechanics, business owners, housewives, pretty much the same mix you would find in any neighborhood,” Arizo says.
He adds that two of the members are full-time paramedics with the Los Angeles Fire Department who volunteer their off-duty time.
Another member is singer and Encino resident Bobby Sherman, whose devotion to the group prompted him to become a qualified emergency medical technician so he can back up medical teams in the field.
Arizo says the group has a job for everybody. In fact, two members are physically challenged. “George Brown is in a wheelchair but works in communications. Russ Spencer is on crutches because of arthritis but he offers support help, too.”
He says there is a need for twice the number of volunteers, but they must be willing to spend three months in training and pass a background check.
Arizo says he would like this volunteer concept to spread to other parts of the city and throughout the country. As far as he knows, there is nothing like it elsewhere in the state.
“There are citizens groups that work with the police departments on specific issues, like tagging, but nothing we have heard of that has the diverse emergency-response capacity we have,” he adds.
That’s too bad, he says, because his group has had good feedback from local officials. “We are willing to help volunteers in other areas to set up organizations like ours,” Arizo says.
Family Committed to Bringing Up Victimized Russian Boy
Just before Christmas of ’93, Barbara Sykes and her husband Dave Golonski returned to their Burbank home with a 3-year-old Russian boy they had adopted from a Rostov-on-Don orphanage, several hundred miles south of Moscow.
The couple had heard about the plight of thousands of orphaned and abandoned children held in desperate circumstances in state-run institutions, and worked through an American agency to adopt one.
Their future son, John Vasily, did not have happy beginnings.
His little sister and two older brothers had been taken from their alcoholic parents and institutionalized after two of their siblings had died of the consequences of neglect.
But young John was taken into the fold of a ready-made family with stability and some local prominence.
Sykes, his adoptive mother, owned a Burbank maintenance business. Golonski, his adoptive father, is a Burbank city councilman. His new family also came with a sister, 12-year-old Randi, and brother, 10-year-old Russell.
It must have all been a wonder to him.
According to Sykes, the child weighed less than 20 pounds at age 3, and most of that was in his big ears, which made him look, she says, like a little Christmas elf.
John had never seen a Christmas tree or television, had never had a birthday cake or gone trick-or-treating on Halloween.
Having been in an institution since the age of 3 months, he didn’t know how to act in what Americans would consider a normal family.
He did not speak English and his adoptive parents spoke little Russian.
When he arrived at his new home, he was so hyperactive that he was literally bouncing off the walls.
According to Sykes, much of that has changed. He is enrolled in preschool and he loves it. He is speaking English in complete sentences.
He has learned how to trick-or-treat and wants to go out in his costume every day and collect candy.
But some things still worry Sykes and Golonski. Although John is 4 years old, he weighs only 24 pounds, and his hyperactivity has not diminished appreciably.
They have had to put locks on doors because he will go into a room and destroy things.
That behavior may be the result of fetal alcohol syndrome, the couple has come to believe.
Sykes says the family loves the little boy and will do what it takes to help him have a happy life.
But she admits it hasn’t been an easy first year.
Sykes had to sell her business to stay at home full-time with the youngster, and it’s been a drain on her.
What she and her family are trying to do for the boy is a tremendous commitment and not for everybody, she says, but it is a commitment they have promised to keep.
“My most interesting Christmas present was a Wonderbra from my husband. I’m still trying to figure out just what that means.”
--North Hollywood woman on phone to friend in Calabasas.