In The Spotlight: Meet David “Buck” Buchanan
Spend even just a few minutes speaking to AAA Colorado member David “Buck” Buchanan, and you’ll walk away sensing he cares deeply about people. Sure, he’s got the tough exterior of someone who helped lead the Los Angeles County Fire Department, but behind all that, Buck believes in giving back.
That spirit of public service runs in the family. Born at Colorado’s own Fitzsimons Army Hospital to a father who was career Air Force, Buck traveled all over the country before settling in California. After high school, a short stint in college, and a few years in the United States Army, a classified ad caught Buchanan’s eye. “I saw an opening for an ambulance driver, learned CPR, and got the position. That started it all,” says Buchanan.
Buck then attended one of the nation’s first paramedic education programs at the Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Inglewood, Calif. Recruited out of school by the Los Angeles City Fire Department, it wasn’t long until Buchanan was poached to fight fires for Los Angeles County. There, he was soon promoted to fire engineer, and then encouraged to take a captain’s test. He passed, and realized he found his calling. “I knew I had something to contribute, and I knew I had to contribute,” he says.
Buchanan was serving as a captain on Sept. 11, 2001, and got word of the terrorist attacks in New York City as he was starting his shift. He was quickly called into Los Angeles’ emergency operations center amid a flurry of rumors that, as he remembers, “Planes might’ve been heading to Los Angeles.” After the towers fell and the scope of the tragedy became clear, Buck and many of his colleagues packed up their turnout gear, their uniforms, and headed straight to New York City to work recovery on the “Pile” (the scene of the attacks), and to attend the memorial services of the 343 firefighters who perished. “The thing I remember most from my time in New York is that we never got into civilian clothes. We were just going everywhere, doing whatever was asked of us,” says Buchanan. “That’s what firefighters do.”
Returning to L.A., Buchanan was promoted to battalion chief, a key leadership role. He spent 35 years with the fire department before retiring in Colorado in 2018, on his birthday—the same day he was born here. But it’s no sleepy retirement.
David “Buck” Buchanan and his bicycle in Big Sur, Calif., during a charity ride. Courtesy of Fire Velo
A lifelong bicyclist, Buchanan serves as vice president of the Fire Velo Cycling Club, a nonprofit organization of active and retired firefighters who set out on long-distance bicycle rides to raise money to support firefighter cancer prevention, recovery, and overall wellness. Buchanan says firefighters commonly face much higher cancer risks than the general population, alongside other unique occupational health risks and illnesses.
This year, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Buck, and other Fire Velo members are hopping on their bicycles in Los Angeles and riding 3,300 miles to New York City. It’s a route AAA Colorado Travel Advisor Eda DiPasquale was honored to plan for the group, including their accommodations along the way.
“I told Eda what we were doing. Since she and her husband are also cyclists, it was instantly clear she felt like it was her calling to do all she could for us,” Buchanan says. “She’s taken care of everything, and relieved the stress of the trip off our shoulders so that we could focus on the training and our mission. It’s been wonderful, and we’re so grateful for it.”
As Buck sets out on his gargantuan, cross-country undertaking, he says, “This is just what I need to do. I don’t want that saying, ‘Never Forget,’ to be lip service. It’s something I truly believe. At some point, more firefighters will pass away from 9/11-related illnesses than passed away on that date. This is our way of serving people who give it all to serve us.”
To learn more about Fire Velo, follow their 9-11 20th Anniversary Ride, and contribute to their mission, visit FireVelo.com.