SAFE HOUSE PROGRAM
The Safe House Program was implemented across Los Angeles County in 1997 as a program to ensure temporary haven for any child or adult facing a potentially threatening situation and needs a safe place to go. Concerned communities have been demonstrating a desire to accept a shared responsibility for the well being of children. Local fire departments, school districts, police departments, parents, and community members have been joining together in building the neighborhood Safe House Program.
Fire station participants agree to provide assistance for children by:
On February 10, 2002, a 12-year-old girl was walking home from school and suddenly appeared at the front door of Los Angeles County Fire Station 165 in Huntington Park. For crewmembers, the little girl was instantly recognized as one of the neighborhood kids who frequented the station to fill the air in her bicycle tires and to spend time with them before heading home two blocks away. But this time, she appeared nervous and hesitant to speak with them, and soon began to cry.
“She told me that a man was following her home from school, then pointed to him across the street in a small park, where he was waiting for her,” said Firefighter Specialist Don McLaughlin, who answered the door and quickly alerted fellow crewmember, Firefighter Joe Sweeney, to follow the man into the park in order to identify him while the Huntington Park Police were called. Within minutes, the suspect, a 41-year-old Hispanic male, was arrested by local police officers and charged with kidnapping and lewd conduct with a child under the age of 14. This was not the first time he followed Hortencia home.
Without leaving the fire station, this rescue scenario is one successful example of the Safe House Program, a five-year-old County-wide program which provides temporary safe haven for any child or adult who encounters a threatening situation and needs a safe place to go. The Program is identified at the front door of each fire station by a 2-foot placard containing the bright yellow triangle...the universal Safe House symbol.
The program has been championed by Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman to ensure that all County fire stations and those operated by other fire departments with the County’s jurisdictional boundaries actively participate. The goal is to make all fire stations a “safe house” for children and adults who need assistance.
“Because of the number and visibility of County fire stations, the program is a first step for those who need to escape a potentially threatening or violent situation. Safe House incidents are reported in the Department’s incident tracking system as any other rescue responses,” says County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman. At the moment it happened, crewmembers reacted more like fathers than firefighters. “We just want to make sure that the suspect was apprehended so that he could not frighten or harm another child,” says Kusaba and McLaughlin, who have children of their own. While the suspect was following behind the little girl along the sidewalk, she remembered the bright yellow Safe House sign and headed toward the fire station, where she knew she would find safety. Once inside, she was calmed down by Fire Captain Mike Kusaba and McLaughlin, who offered her a soda and some M&M’s. “Just last week, she stopped by and seems back to normal. We are all glad to see her smiling again,” added Kusaba.
For more information, contact the Public Affairs Office at (323) 881-2472.