At 10:23 p.m., February 7,1968, Engines 11, 13 and
32, Trucks 11 and 29, Salvage 32 and Battalion 11 Chief Vernon F. Braden
were dispatched to a reported structure fire at 3075 Wiltshire Boulevard
at Virgil Avenue. Upon arrival companies found nothing showing at
the nine-story United States Borax & Chemical Corporation. A security
guard told firefighters there was a small rubbish fire on the third floor.
The companies rode the elevators investigating. On the third
floor white smoke was observed oozing form a small hole in the floor of a
room near the elevator. Chief Braden reported back to Westlake (the
dispatchers) that Engine and Truck 11 would handle a small fire.
Chief Braden, his aide (driver) Robert L. Skemp and Fireman Gerald E.
Babcock of Engine 11, along with a security guard, entered an elevator and
rode to the second floor. At the same time, Captain Clifford
Collord, Jr., 47, of Engine Company 32, along with his firemen, Richard B.
Matthews and James A. Oliver, entered an adjacent elevator and a
maintenance worker took them to the same floor.
When the first elevator stopped at the second floor, the inner door
opened, but the outer door remained closed. Fire and smoke began to
fill the elevator. Unknown to the men inside, a fire was burning in
a lunch room and spreading along the second-floor corridor. The men tried
pushing the elevator button to take them back to the ground floor but to
no avail. The elevator was inoperative. The emergency alarm
system in the elevator was not functioning, their hand-held radio calls
not heard, nor were their screams for help.
Meanwhile, the other elevator with Captain Collord, his crew and
the maintenance worker also stopped at the second floor. The doors
opened to an inferno. Mathews, Oliver and the maintenance worker
fled along the smoke-filled corridor. The firemen found an interior
standpipe-supplied hoseline and began attacking the fire. Captain
Collord was missing but thought to have fled down a front stairway.
Fireman Lee A. Powers of Engine Company 11 had, meanwhile, entered
the third elevator in the lobby and proceeded to the third floor.
The doors would not open and he was soon overcome by smoke. He was
later rescued by Fireman Bart P. Vlietstra of Engine Company 13 who, after
giving his breathing apparatus to Powers, collapsed from smoke inhalation.
Eventually Truck 11 firemen, using forcible entry tools, pried open
the elevator doors and freed Chief Braden, Skemp, Babcock and the security
guard. As the smoke cleared, Captain Collord's body was found
partially inside the burning elevator.