Derek Bart and Courtney Gilbert

Recorded February 5, 2020 Archived February 5, 2020 37:54 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019639


Derek Bart (56) talks with StoryCorps Facilitator Courtney Gilbert (28) about his time spent as a fireman at LA County Fire Department, his upbringing and family history and how he'd like to be remembered.

Subject Log / Time Code

DB reflects on his time as a fireman at LA County Fire Department and his feelings about retirement.
DB recalls knowing he wanted to be a fireman at 19 and learning at both basic training and on the job.
DB describes an experience he had that stuck with him, of bringing a girl out of a deadly fire and meeting her by chance years later.
DB recalls a time when he found out that he had unknowingly influenced a young man to become a fireman.
DB reflects on the importance of community and helping others.
DB talks about his family history in New Orleans and his ancestral pirates.
DB talks about starting a food concession business and his family's ties to Creole - Cajun cooking.
DB recalls his childhood and the community he grew up in.
DB recalls going on his honeymoon on the east coast around 9/11 and "cheating death." He reflects on parenthood.
DB shares how he'd like to be remembered.


  • Derek Bart
  • Courtney Gilbert

Recording Location

Downtown Santa Monica



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00:05 Hi, my name is Courtney Gilbert. I'm 28 years old. Today's date is Wednesday, February 5th. 2020. I'm in Santa Monica, California with Derek Bart. There's can be my new friend and we got more afternoon. My name is Derek Bart. I'm 56 years old from Los Angeles, California. And I live in Westlake Village and I'm here with Courtney Gilbert Gilbert. He was a facilitator for storycorps. Awesome Derek. Thank you so much for for being in the booth today. Let's get right into it. You are stepping away from something. That was a big part of your life here. So you're transitioning out of work as a fireman. Am I correct? Correct? What are your what are your feelings around that what are your kind of expectations for a life after this kind of job? And then if you feel comfortable, can you share some of like your stand-out memories around being in fire service?

01:04 And I'm very happy and honored to be here thinking so yes, I'm 56 years old. I've worked for LA County Fire Department for 31 years. I put everything into my life for 6 years to get hired by this department, which I consider BD Gray's department. And as I always do firemen the best apartment work for is the one who's Badger wearing have a good fortune to work for the best one having said that my current position that was fire captain at Fire Station 144 in Westlake Village. I live and work there which is a pretty special thing for me. I spent of the vast majority of my career and what we call the base and I specifically South Central in Englewood area which happened to be very very busy areas. I was fortunate enough to transition.

02:04 To the station was like now and as I mentioned before I just recently about 6 months ago. I had an injury at work that is forced me to look at the second half of my life in in retirement completely destroyed my shoulder and this is second shoulder injury on that one and maybe something that I might not be able to recover some from so looking at doing the right thing and move it on and retiring with that comes is

02:40 Unlike a lot of jobs where you're in a cubicle and you 5 on Friday. You say see you Monday 24 48-72 9620 or in the case of the Woolsey fire. I work 25 days 25 24 hour days month of November last November 2018. And so you're spending a lot of time with these guys and girls and you're doing you're getting every range of emotion within the soul stirrers the time, you know some highs and some very very Lowe's so there's a there's a bond that you know, we always say is actually a lot of times closer than your spouse and you a lot of times and I can never go home and tell my wife and kids some stuff I've seen so we can share that with each other having said all that now I'm looking at

03:40 Leaving that it's hard for firefighters because you go from being someone that is looked upon your hands Ariana feeling people respect and appreciate you and and that's it. There's a comfort there and then you retire you become a civilian again and what you really miss is a jumping on that fire engine and going to fixing somebody's problem when you really do I have throughout my career, even when I was on vacation if I heard a siren I missed it like that old warhorse. I want to get back in the battle. But but there's a time for everything there is a season for everything important thing is annoying.

04:30 When it's time for you to transition and more importantly having something healthy to transition to absolutely so that's where I'm at now, but as I reflect on my career, I have so many highlights and a special things in those other things that make you want to stay to have one more of those. How old were you when you decided that she wanted to pursue a career. I graduate high school in Los Angeles and you know, which college prep schools, you know, you got to go to college got to get TruGreen where the sunt I was going to go to USD down San Diego where my brother and sister went to college, but that wasn't me I grew up the son of a contractor and I enjoyed working with my hands. I being out working with my dad and his friends and I realized that I couldn't see it.

05:30 You're way more action-oriented give me a pad and pencil and and some notepads and I'm going to lose them. So I quickly learned that I should never be behind the desk. I needed something that was going to grab my attention. Yeah, it sounds like it's definitely a big problem solving roll right at that time. And in that moment to can you talk about was there any kind of like I want to feel like maybe

06:06 I transition where you had to like develop some skills. Like I only like listening communication, but there was probably a. We're like you are obviously like still figuring it out. Right like a leaf light gray question. First thing that comes to mind is actually a back up a little bit. I'll tell you in the academy they give you all the basic training that you need and they tell you stories and you hear stories and then one day you find yourself in bed and that bill goes off and they say a structure fire people trapped and you show up there and there's an apartment with fire blowing out of it at people are screaming their insides are sides are inside and people yelling at you go in there and get them and I got tell you I tell my tell my rookie fireman if every year fireman,

07:03 For firefighter now the time it was so all that walking around sticking her chest out. Hey, this is a cool job. That means nothing when that happened since those are people on the other side there.

07:19 Rely on you to come get him.

07:23 That's that's what it's game on right now. So you were back to your training and

07:33 There was an incident their Severance is but one in particular fire that I had February 17th 1993 at 1101 West 107th Street at 12:37 a.m. It was in LA Zoo South Central Area Athens District when I was at Fire Station 14 and want to people trapped me when we got there if she has met us at the door and they said haters These people inside we can hear him screaming. All right, so I dropped my hose line in my partner. I ran inside lights upstairs is true story and we went inside I went directly to the fire room and Dennis went to one of the adjoining bedrooms.

08:18 The room I when she was fully involved with fire, so I checked down I said okay for you guys in your third.

08:25 Unsurvivable, so I checked the next next bedroom. I wish I'd double bunk beds. And so okay children. So this is where it comes back to training all that training kicks in and you tell you kids like hide in the closet. They hide under the beds they hide in the bathtub. So after searching that room and finding nothing I search to join bedroom in my partner dentist check my room and while we were doing that

08:53 A 14 crew went topside and I cut a hole in the roof and then my engine company partner of a 214 Town Johnson went in and brought the whole signing a fire down.

09:08 Shortly after that as a smoke started to rise I was able to look across the hallway from the bedroom that we were in which actually unfortunately had to Fado's that a little for go boy and a woman and I looked across the hallway and in a bathtub. I see this young girl 8 years old name is Myesha and

09:31 I know is that I run in there and I knows that our face and hands are burned and so I ran their I grabbed her throw over my shoulders go downstairs and mind you spell one in the morning and all these residents of his apartment as they see me going by with your they start to gas because they see this little girl that they knew burnt and so I let her out on the grass and I was not a paramedic at the time but I got it for my station at work attended to her and brought her to the hospital. And so then of course we stayed on scene 4 question 4 hours waiting for the corner and family members is one of those scenes were you just say got you please give me out here, you know, this is horrible.

10:19 Tough to deal with but I always so the next morning I can see you're going to the hospital bring your teddy bear but I just was too emotional I did but as every firefighter to tell you there are those calls that haunt them if they come to him your dreams and they never forget never and what makes it really hard on is a firefighters kids because we're always thinking about the worst scenario in and telling him about it. They want to hear that.

10:56 Think he's so I didn't go but four years. I always wonder how Myesha was or 12 years later. I found myself in the Baldwin Hills Walmart, which is no longer there and screw watch buy me face in hands and I've been burned she has a name tag. This is myisha.

11:17 She goes by.

11:19 And I'm shocked me but I didn't say it. But I found myself having an Elsa 2 weeks later. I'm back in Walmart has to check her I said you have to do that works here by the name is Misha. She's yes, we do. Would you like me to get her please do so she comes over by she comes home. She uses me help you.

11:44 Say my name is Derek Barnett fireman. If I get to personal please stop me but February 17th 1993 a little one with a hundred 7th Street. And when I'm sorry, I pulled out a little girl and her name was Aisha and she starts crying. I'm crying because then we got that to me. And so you hate. Can I give you a hug? You know, I give her a hug and she says I can't wait to tell my mom.

12:12 Salt is in a tree lights. Okay, wasn't her mother that passed but it was it was and I'll tell you.

12:22 It was a cold windy night and the wind knocked the power out.

12:27 It so they were using candles this.

12:30 And they went to bed without having anything under the candles.

12:36 And the smoke detectors had duct tape on them and we're hanging from the ceilings and my only

12:43 Assumption was at all times people realize when they hear that beeping sound you have changed battery and they didn't change of they put the duct tape to keep the noise down. And so because if not have those smoke detectors two people lost in life.

13:02 So any case we had to becoming friends on Facebook, and I know said she had a daughter.

13:10 And that she was married.

13:12 And yeah, that's me is one of the most special times among the many special times. I've had in my career and it means something that cannot mean anyway, at least seeing that you've been able to to continue something that you said might have haunted you and you might not have had any kind of closure on that. So yeah, I had another one when I work down in Lawndale could use one by the fire station all the time. You had a flat top back a twin Kid and Play was in Europe and are used to rock by I don't even remember his name. I always give him a hard time about that hairdo and then I talked to him about the Fire Department fire trucks will guess what?

14:00 Years later. I'm at Daniel Freeman Hospital bring a full Restoration in LA City Rescue in his rolls up with two guys and one guy says hey, that's Derek Bart. I'm a fireman today because of him. His buddy says me to buy new the one guy because he was my Explorer when I was exploring a visor. So he comes over to me after he brought his patient and he says, hey man, I know you don't remember me.

14:30 But I used to go to school in Lawndale. I used to walk by your fire station. Every time you always give me a hard time as soon as he said I knew exactly he decided to go into the Navy and why was in the Navy when he took the test. Is it one of the jobs you have a good firefighter. So you guys remember my name I used to talk about fire service. So I'm going to try that. So we did it got out of Naval Academy got out of the Navy and apply with LA City and got a tire with a Lake City Fire Department and just you know for me.

15:12 As hard as I work to get this job and to be on this job when my fondest greatest memories is being able to reach back and look at when he's one of many that I've actually got on since I've been on because you turn around you put the time in and that's why I teach on my young farm and take your time take the time.

15:39 Reach back and pull somebody up. It doesn't cost me anything and gives you more rewards than anything. You can get financially or materially sounds like it means something to you and like you said looking back and giving back. Was that something that's kind of innate and you or did you have someone in your life who taught you about service? I grew up in a family that came out here from New Orleans and I'm very very very very tight at community that they all end up. My grandfather had a restaurant my great-uncle had a big freak and they were in

16:22 LA area that had a lot of Creoles that come from New Orleans settled in these areas. And so everything's going around the food in + communities in that community events. My dad did fundraising for St. August school where you attended a New Orleans and so and family and Community was always a big thing. I grew up in the ventricles you Park area and I'm very tight-knit group of folks. So it was just something that I think just happened. Naturally. I'm just going to family events. That's what friends it was just and then having relatives that have these businesses knowing all these different people and so he's just

17:10 There's nobody hiring from the community to your family.

17:17 But it's just I think it's just something that one has a recognized the importance of to do.

17:29 You do it because you know the value give you an example to try and get the fire department. My mom brought me to the fire station 85 station and there was a guy there that just met.

17:44 Don't you remember his name? He spent a good three hours sitting down and talking to me about what I need to do in the fire service and and I always remember that and I wish I knew you was come back and thank you, but the way I am thinking him is by continuing at 2 to reach back and do it until I ring the doorbell always sending me even though I know you do and

18:24 And there's a war reward in that personally and then hopefully others will pick up on it.

18:32 That kind of spear net energy is really special Derek talk a little bit more about your Creole Heritage in your family being from New Orleans. I know that's a big part of like La history is that there's this migration from the southern parts of the country. What does that mean for you will start with the more recent ones. He has my my grandparents on both sides all came out here. My Mom's I came out early 40s

19:04 And my grandparents on my dad's side came out after my dad my dad came out here. He's 19 to work. As you know, the South was not very friendly and my get my dad would never occurs in my dad was kind of a kind of last minute, but it was until I was in my thirties, you know, you said to me it was one of the driving factors. He says, do you know it's like for somebody tell you you aren't you can't do this or you can't do that because color skin and he says I've got to a point where I felt like I was going to kill somebody and my dad was not buying music by the man. I haven't said that there were plenty people. My dad grew up in was called the 7th Ward New Republic Street in New Orleans big big big creek me. What is a very makes me to lie. Aliens. My dad works his place by Basha's Grocery. So Italian guy.

20:00 And I would like to point out that as much as we talked about the segregation issues of color in the South there were so many people there.

20:11 Weis so sympathetic and wonderful people and my family friends had lots of my grandfather on my mom's side group with that Louis Prima. Who's the old singer no more. The original was just a Gigolo you he played baseball with and also I think there's a little Richard but so continue on that there's a book about my family written by a cousin mine. + 400 yards call one drop. My father's hidden Legacy and talks about very interesting.

20:48 So I'll jump back to my grandfather briefly late 70s. My grandfather told me a story about him playing with swords with his cousin at his house is all there in a chest in the attic storage chest attic New Orleans. This is a story and what's the deal with that? There's a story in the family that we have rotisserie pirates wear with a jean Lafitte. So none of this was confirmed into a blessed. Who am I never met until more recent times. Her father was sick and she wanted to discover family history. And so doing that she discovered Gilbert and Unruh, bro yard or Pirates Rouge on the feet now are the first bro yards.

21:48 Arrived here in 1750 on Orleans and Bourbon Street and their of the street from the piece that they had a meeting with Jean Lafitte and I working with them. But mainly they were Carpenters painters. They were they did construction work right through that door would look like I think it would probably go from the Brits now. Mainly they were during the war of Battle of New Orleans War 1812.

22:32 So they're in that so yeah really need you know, and then fast forward and rubbed his on on actually both sides of that fact, but when the neatest things I want things I didn't tell you about was I started a food concession business and it was an Ode to

22:53 Me and fire service and my family's deep deep history in New Orleans French Quarter Firehouse Cuisine, and I love to tell the story about how my DNA runs deep in New Orleans and that my relatives. My ancestors were actually the people

23:11 Truly I can say this. In fact that helped to create this Cajun Creole cuz he know they were the Cajuns that intermarried with a Twist. It was a African Americans and the Native Americans in Spanish and Irish people realize how many Irish were down there and so they creates really unique and just as a jazz is uniquely American. So is Creole Cajun cooking, of course, he has all the influences of the African spices Indian Native American the Spanish guy is nothing more than a Twist on fire. Yeah, you know and

23:58 An indication of Creole cooking. So I love to share this story that

24:07 Our DNA are people are actually ones that

24:12 Spell Teresa station American DNA.

24:22 Same word America is becoming in people some people there just a little afraid of seeing changing demographics to me is most beautiful thing and I'm not going to all that stuff. But I have a wonderful outlook on this country. I mean we have a guy that was in the Bronx machine Obama elected twice by majority of people. So regardless what's going on today?

24:56 Americans and the people see the wonderful changes coming into work for you having direct ties to something. Like I said, it is literally American culture if it's coming down to the food and other people advertise like American food is like, you know, like hotdogs apple pie frank and beans very unique traditional dishes. I'm super bias. I love New Orleans. I keep trying to go back every chance that I get. So everyone lives in the city is true.

25:56 Are some of your favorite La memories, I mean as much as you can claim obviously New Orleans, you're born and raised out here. I'll tell you I grew up in.

26:12 I don't say so unique. It's not because a lot of times you know, how people want to look at African Americans. They think they're Poor Boys come out. Remember Bill Cosby Show me people that did all sorts of careers working professionals is when the private schools and my dad has a carpenter union carpenter and then going out on his own I provide those things worse and so grown up. It was never like I never felt animosity toward anyone else cuz our prayers raises so you could do have whatever you want. Okay, you know you'd encounter some food since but just just wonderful folks life on friends now, I will relate that to

27:10 Cure my grandfather told in my mom's Debbie is my dad's dad passed away when I was three so I don't remember it. But my grandfather used to tell me you don't talk to U Street John on your jersey Republican and they always tell the stories all these wheels with tell stories about you somewhere on some certain Street in on the circle Market in St. Bernard. And so you hear all these stories about this community that they grew up in and you see these people at these events.

27:45 Enjoying all this incredible food and it was always about family and food and friends and you wouldn't be wild by that right? So then you're coming to La a lot of the people that moved out this way because opportunities for work and my dad was graduate and very very very influential school down there. And so my dad continue on with fundraising when he was out here and Bucks was friends with a fundraiser every year. They do a New Year's Eve of it. So every New Year's Eve, I didn't I wasn't hanging out with my friends. I was with me but dad's black tie event, of course, you know people that hung out with mutual friends that we spend time with her butt.

28:40 Growing up in LA

28:42 And that Community I guess insulated me in a lot of ways.

28:48 And that through his love.

28:51 Play love playing friends on your family.

28:57 And

29:00 There's a point. I wanted to make TM trying to think.

29:09 Yankees

29:12 Do you lose Advanced with my dad? That's what that's what was in those vents with my dad and then I'm going to work with my dad doing construction with him and then his friends and you know some of these guys okay Asian guy and if you ever gation speak so, you know, I love being around these guys mystery bought. Mr. Dupree Miss robbery. I mean, I love these guys, you know, Jorge Brito Bobby Roque just incredible wonderful people that taught me a lot about being a man.

29:56 Be be good respect for human being and work hard. You know, I got that work ethic from them and my dad when I graduated from the fire academy pay my badge on me and then use my best man in my way and 77 when he passed about 5 years ago my dad's opinion.

30:28 My dad's opinion still matter.

30:32 That's Legacy.

30:37 Have a good parent.

30:39 My mom my mom who switched me so live is just wonderful wonderful loving woman that has going to be part of raising the three of us by brother Greg and my sister Dana and enforcing you were we have a good fortune. So having her here at 82 and she's doing great.

31:02 Sorry know. You're okay. We're prepared. Can you talk a little bit about your role as a parent and you know the lessons that you've learned and I know that you were talking about trying to make sure there is a separation between your work life and your family life.

31:23 I will tell you a little interesting story year. I got married September 8th 2001 September 10th. I took a plane from LAX to Boston. We ride from Boston American Airlines.

31:39 Gate, 42b flight 192 got in at 6:33 a.m. Golf plain, and we're going to Martha's Vineyard for a honeymoon. Please have been going for years before I got married show up by the time we got down to Woods Hole to take the ferry over the vineyard.

31:59 Get off your little Clam Shack there and they said a second plane is hit the World Trade Center.

32:07 So you don't have the vineyard 45-minute bull ride and then was until the next day. I called home. I couldn't reach them till next time I guess is Derek that plane that you were on does not exist anymore American 11 the first plane hit the towers. I have just deplaned off of 2 hours earlier that very plain.

32:27 There's something about his cheating death, which is not my first experience to death in fire service. I had more than a few on the hills of Malibu getting burned over but something about jean jacket that tells you hey, I got a free playing life. So I'm kind of taking that attitude of all this, you know, if I were done tomorrow,

32:52 I've got two beautiful wonderful smart.

32:57 Knowledgeable and he just incredible daughters Morgan and Madison and

33:06 I never forget a good friend told me when you have a kid man. There's something I could send you and I had both of my daughters here at St. John's in Santa Monica. And I remember walking with Morgan Rogers born. Some guy was walking by me.

33:22 What's up, just long here, probably rock and roll musician or something. But to me, you know, it put my guard up and instantly I had this like Daddy Ray's that has like shredded you if you can hear my kid for that come from but it's just that fatherly instincts and

33:44 Funny things I just had this conversation with my daughter two nights with my oldest daughter as it listen, cuz she's 17 and starting to date. I said listen, honey. You are always going to be you are everything only thing I care about in this world you two girls and if anything happens to you

34:04 I can deal with it. So when I tell you these things I'm telling you because

34:11 I don't want you to have fun.

34:13 I just can't bear the thought of something happening. So yeah life in fire service life at home. I don't like to bring that over to him. They've known me for the majority of time to have worked in the Malibu Italian. They were younger when I worked in South Central.

34:37 And

34:40 I moved West vs. Because there was nobody there traffic in La is impossible to do things here is a lifestyle they live here. It's not at all like the lifestyle think her family beautiful great life sound LA, but the traffic does not permit. My girls ride horses across water polo. They do a lot of things at

35:03 It could have been a lie, because it would be impossible to get these places.

35:09 So I I don't I show them from some horrible things that you tell them that there are some crazy things out there. Look out for part of your instinct to you. You're in the business of safety. So, you know a great first hand account with the time left that we have here Derek. I would like for you to describe the ways that you would like to be remembered.

35:41 It's kind of a hard question that you asked me today because actually I am.

35:46 Just found out today.

35:49 I might have pancreatic cancer.

35:57 But I'm hopeful and hopefully snotty, you know, is it in the fire service? You don't cancers are part of what we get.

36:05 Unfortunately, and I'm still kind of processing is today.

36:12 But I've always said

36:18 I am the only thing I care about and the only thing I want people to remember is that I was a good father and talk about the more recent send it with Kobe Bryant. I actually had more love and respect for Kobe as a father and we did after his life in basketball then I mean obviously he's a great talent but he was even greater. I think Toby would agree with me and I'll tell you this where that plane crash or his helicopter crash was not far from where I live and that's a battalion. I working.

36:51 The hardest thing there was I know that his last few seconds. The only thing he thought about was John and that he would die a thousand deaths to save his children from any pain and suffering. So for me.

37:09 Just to have been a father that even when I'm gone for them to know.

37:15 I love him more.

37:22 Animals in the Hat

37:26 Your father is always with you.

37:30 Thank you so much sterek.

37:33 Are you pretty?