Look Back at Los Angeles Firefighters’ Efforts During Northridge Earthquake

The fire chief woke with a start before dawn on Jan. 17, 1994, just like any other Angeleno tossed from his bed by the 6.7-magnitude Northridge Earthquake, reports the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

But Battalion Chief Larry Schneider, wedged on the floor between his cot and the wall at the new Fire Station 28 in Porter Ranch, kept his cool. Like dozens of shaken firefighters under his command, he was ready to respond to widespread havoc.

To overcome the initial shock. To emerge from the rubble of once-tidy firehouses. To quickly respond to the eerie chaos. Without power. Without fully working radios. And without enough water or men to quell the blanket of fires bursting across the San Fernando Valley.

“Everything failed,” recalled Schneider, 86, of Torrance, who retired from the Los Angeles Fire Department six years ago after 63 years of firefighting experience. “I never saw anything like it.

“When I looked over the Valley, it was dark, without power. And dust was rising, almost like a fog. And there were transformers shorting and exploding across the Valley. Then we started seeing the fires, red glows in the sky. To the east of us, the whole sky was red.”

The Northridge Earthquake rocked the Los Angeles region at 4:31 a.m. with the most violent ground motion ever recorded under any city in North America, according to geologists, and ultimately the most expensive at $20 billion. Freeways crumpled. Homes, storefronts and shopping malls collapsed. Hospitals stood crippled. Trains derailed, spewing toxic chemicals.

Nearly 800 fires were reported across Los Angeles. And those were just the ones called in.

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