Firefighters Celebrate Community at Annual Backdraft Ball

For the 32nd year in a row, the June 11 Beverly Hills Firefighters’ Association’s (BHFA) Backdraft Ball was the hottest ticket in town, with firefighters, city officials and enthusiastic residents gathering at the Beverly Wilshire, a Four Seasons Hotel to honor the men and women who risk their lives to keep the community safe.

KTLA Morning News Anchor Jessica Holmes, who hosted the program, infused the event with humor and some light hijinks, while auctioneer Chuck Dukas kept the energy high as he bid off luxurious items including a Tulum getaway, an African safari, and the most highly coveted, a home-cooked meal at Fire Station 1 on Rexford Drive. 

The focus of the night, however, was on the firefighters and their supporters in the community. The event’s honoree was Jeanne S. Marks, who launched a scholarship fund in 2008 that awards educational grants to the children of Beverly Hills Fire Department (BHFD) firefighters, while Fire Engineers Vic Gutierrez and Melissa Hillis received the Harvey Adair-Art Davis Award and the Felix Rothchild Firefighter of the Year Award, respectively.  


Jeanne S. Marks expressed her gratitude for being honored at the Backdraft Ball.
Photo by Joey Waldinger

“I woke up this morning and am still beaming,” Hillis told the Courier on June 12. “It’s just surreal.” 

After being hired as a Firefighter in 2008, Hillis was promoted to Fire Engineer in 2011 and has since emerged as one of the department’s most dedicated mentors, particularly of young women in the fire service. 

In 2022 and 2023, Hillis organized and led the BHFD Empowerment Camp, a two-day immersion in the fire service that teaches young people leadership skills and promotes their interest in a firefighting career. Hillis has represented BHFD in similar camps across the Los Angeles region and serves as treasurer on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Fire Alliance.  

Her efforts to inspire more women to join the fire service have paid off. For years, Hillis was the only woman serving in the BHFD, but there are now three female probationary firefighters in the department. 

“I like to joke that my locker room is so fun now. I love having little sisters in the department,” Hillis said. “I’m really proud of them.” 

Gutierrez has served the BHFD for three decades, and like Hillis, he has distinguished himself with a deep record of mentorship. He has been a BHFA board member for 14 years, including eight as president, during which he helped the organization flourish and grow, according to the BHFA. 


BHFD Chief Greg Barton with Fire Engineer Melissa Hillis, who won the Felix Rothchild Firefighter of the Year Award.
Photo by Roger Reiner-RBRPhotography

“Vic’s career has been a testament to what it means to be a firefighter, a leader and a friend. His legacy of service, mentorship and dedication will continue to inspire future generations of firefighters,” the BHFA stated. “Tonight, we celebrate not only his career but also the person he is—a mentor, a leader and a friend.” 

The BHFD is unique not only for its stellar reputation—it is one of 122 fire departments worldwide that are both Class 1 and accredited—but for its strong ties with the community, as evidenced by the Judie Fenton Community & Volunteer Excellence Award presented to former Mayor Les Bronte.  

“I’m 89, [helping my community] is my reason for getting out of bed,” Bronte said. 

Asked what sets the BHFD apart from other fire departments, Bronte said, “Training, reward, always [being] on the cutting edge. Innovation saves lives.” 

It is no surprise then that the Beverly Hills community goes above and beyond to help the firefighters who serve them.  

Since establishing The Donald Reynolds Beverly Hills Firefighters’ Association Scholarship Fund in honor of her late husband, Marks has helped award 74 college scholarships and 289 K-12 enrichment scholarships, according to the BHFA. 

Marks became involved with the department through her work as an event coordinator and organizational consultant with FTA Events and Marketing (the company that organized the Backdraft Ball), and she was impressed by the friendliness, professionalism and dedication of the first responders she worked with.  


KTLA Morning News Anchor Jessica Holmes kept the evening light and festive.
photos by Joey Waldinger

She recounted how, one evening, she called an ambulance after consulting her doctor about a benign cardiac arrhythmia. When the ambulance showed up, it was staffed by many of the same paramedics and firefighters she had had coffee with     during a meeting earlier that morning. Because of her condition, Marks had to be attached to an EKG machine, which meant she would have to take off her top.

“So, there I was with the guys I sat having coffee with that morning, having to take my top off,” Marks said. “But they were very kind, very professional, very respectful, and they put me at ease.”  

“Firefighters, thank you so much. For this honor. It really means the world to me; I’ve loved working with you over the years … I have a lot of gratitude, from the bottom of my now fixed heart,” Marks said. 


City staff including Public Works Director Shana Epstein, center, and Community Services Director Stephanie Harris, left, showed their support for the BHFD.
Beverly Hills City Councilmembers including Vice Mayor Sharona Nazarian mingled with the community at the Beverly Wilshire gala.
Greeting the crowd in a firefighters jacket, Holmes started the night with some light hijinks.
Hundreds of community members came out to honor the men and women who keep them safe.
BHFD firefighters on stage
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