On January 16, 2017, Task Force 33 responded to a structure fire at a bungalow in the Vermont Knolls neighborhood of South Los Angeles. Heavy smoke and flames were showing from the front of the house when they arrived on scene. While performing forcible entry onto the property, Firefighter Bryce Gutierrez heard screams coming from inside. At that same time, the captain in charge confirmed that four children – ages two, three, five, and seven – were still in the house.
Locked security gates blocked the front entrance, and as Gutierrez circled the property he found security bars on all the windows. He finally found a rear-bedroom window – the only point of entry not yet consumed by flames – through which he could make access.
He hoisted himself through the window into complete darkness, with thick smoke and zero visibility. Hearing muffled noises in the distance, he called out, but received no response. He then dropped to the ground and, crawling on all fours, began to search for the children.
Amidst the smoke and flames, he found each child, one at a time. Each one had gone unconscious, and as he came across each limp figure, Gutierrez, not knowing whether they were dead or alive, carried them quickly back to the window, passing each body to a waiting firefighter on the other side. He completed these motions until all four children were rescued.
The children were badly burned and were suffering from smoke inhalation. They were treated on-scene by paramedics and transported in critical condition to local hospitals.
The children had been in the home alone and were huddled in a bedroom when firefighters arrived. Investigators believe the mother was out on an errand when the fire started. She returned and watched as paramedics cared for the severely injured children.
There was a smoke detector inside the home at the time of the fire, but it melted, leaving no way of determining if it was working when the fire started. There was no electricity in the house, so it’s unclear what started the fire.
Four children are alive today because of the courageous actions taken by Firefighter Gutierrez. His exceptional service earned him one of the LAFD’s highest honors, the Medal of Merit. And in Sacramento, Assemblymember Mike Gipson led the State Assembly in a special ceremony to honor him.