Calif. firefighters, police get VIP treatment at NFL game

More than 100 members of the Ventura County Fire Department and Sheriff's Office were VIP guests of the Los Angeles Rams during their regular-season finale


By Joe Curley
Ventura County Star

LOS ANGELES — Tom Lanski had been to NFL games in Chicago and New Orleans.

Last year, the Ventura fire captain caught one of the Rams' home games at the Coliseum in their first season back in Los Angeles.

But Sunday was different for Lanksi and more than 100 members of the Ventura County Fire Department and Ventura County Sheriff's Office, who were VIP guests of the Rams' during their regular-season finale against San Francisco.

"This is pretty awesome," said Lanski, who wore a Ventura High football polo as he looked out from his VIP perch at the peristyle end of the Coliseum.

"When we walked out here, you've got the food and the drinks. You're sitting up here in the shade. It's real special."

Ventura County's teams were welcomed by the team who calls Ventura County home, an expression of thanks for their service to the community during the Thomas Fire.

"For them to open their stadium like this is just absolutely phenomenal," police commander Rob Davidson said. "Sheriff (Geoff) Dean was very grateful and saw this as a good opportunity to pay back the staff for all their hard work."

The Rams had previously welcomed the Los Angeles Fire Department to the game against Philadelphia on Dec. 10, when Ventura County's forces were still very much busy with the Thomas Fire.

"If they would have had it two weeks ago, no one would have been able to show," Lanski said. "There's even a lot of guys working right now."

Davidson, the sheriff's day-time incident commander during the fire, said he was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon.

"It's an excellent opportunity to see some of the people that you worked with under some very tense conditions under a much more light-hearted environment," Davidson said. "And to be able to share some friendship and some camaraderie with them, while watching a great game thanks to the Rams."

The Rams used the two-minute warning prior to halftime to thank the police and firefighters in attendance, showing the VIP area on the video boards.

"We wanted to thank them for their great service to our community," Maria Camacho, the Rams' head of government affairs, said.

While Davidson had spent time in the student section at the Coliseum during his days as a USC student, Jerin Widofsky hadn't been to an NFL game in Los Angeles since the Raiders played in the Coliseum.

But the Sheriff's deputy wore a Rams hat, alongside his son, who wore a Todd Gurley jersey.

"It's just very generous of them to do," Widofsky said. "I appreciate it."

Lanski had attended games in other markets while following his children, Amy, who played volleyball at Tulane University and his son Jake, the former Ventura College and San Jose State placekicker. Lanski's youngest son, Nick, a sophomore linebacker on this year's Ventura High team, joined him Sunday.

Lanski was in upper Ojai during the first night of the fire, helping another engine in its response.

"The real focus was getting people out and banging on doors and letting people know," Lanksi said. "We were doing our best and that fire was moving so fast. It was getting ahead of the actual engines. An acre a minute, you're talking a pretty fast-moving fire (because of) 65-, 75-mile-per-hour winds."

Soon, he received word from his own station that his home in the Ondulando neighborhood of Ventura was threatened and, eventually, lost.

"I got a text about 20 minutes later that my house was fully involved," Lanksi said.

Lanski said the community as a whole, and the fire department, has been "hugely" supportive in the wake of the fire.

"You see stuff happen -- we travel all over -- and you always wonder how your community would react and respond to other people," Lanski said. "It's been absolutely amazing.

"For everything bad that's happened, we're turning it into a positive experience."

The Lanskis have found a rental in the Ventura Keys. The hope is the rebuild takes two years.

"It was different this year," Lanski said. "Christmas was really bizarre in a rental. You really started to feel the impact a little more, especially since it was during the holidays."

Davidson, who experienced the 1992 riots and the Northridge earthquake, called the Thomas Fire a singular event locally.

"It's really humbling when you realize how vulnerable as a community we are to the environment," Davidson said. "The sustained danger and the sustained effort that was required for this is unparalleled."

Which made the response to event equally as memorable.

"Watching the entire county team come together in the early days and work so well together on our heels," Davidson said. "Everyone is being pushed back by this fire that's moving 10, 15 miles per hour, which is unheard of.

"And watching the entire county organization just instantly meld together, City of Ventura working with County working with (California Highway Patrol) working with County Fire. We were all aligned in our effort. It was a single purpose, and that was to get people out of the way of this devastating fire."

Copyright 2017 Ventura County Star

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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