Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive


           DEED OF HEROISM

At Peril of Life Engineer Crawls Over Top of
Swaying Machine and Stops Mad Career of
Horses in Time to Save the Lives of
Scores on Crowded Street

    Because of the heroism of Engineer William W. Tebbetts a series of accidents which might have resulted in terrible loss of life was narrowly averted Saturday night when the three big grays that run with engine No. 3 dashed from the Hill street fire engine house without a guiding hand on the reins.

    Through some inadvertency of R. G. Hammel, spare driver, the big machine dashed from the house before he could take his seat.

    Engineer Tebbetts, realizing the disaster that would follow the frenzied flight of the uncontrolled horses, crept along the suction pipe, and clinging to his swaying perch finally reached the reins and got the frightened animals under control three blocks away

    The alarm rang in a little after 11 o'clock and the streets were crowded with theater-goers.

    At Broadway and Third streets hundreds of pedestrians were panic stricken by the sight of the runaway engine bearing down on them with all the potentiality for tearing its way through the crowd of terrified people.

                                    Hosemen Cheer Brave Comrade
    Engineer Tebbetts, careless of his own life, was all the while slowly working his perilous way to the reins and the control of the big grays who knew no guiding hand was behind them.

    His assistant, Fred Fix, was hurled from his station when the big engine swung around Hill and Third streets.

    Upon Tebbetts' efforts alone depended the safety of scores of persons.

    Ahead was the hose wagon, its men powerless to give aid and glancing back at the ponderous machine that was rushing down behind them with no driver on the seat.

    The men saw indistinctly a man painfully clambering up the suction pipe.  They witnessed his climb to the driver's seat, and gave a cheer when at last Tebbetts was seated firmly with the reins in his hands and the frantic horses under control.

                                                  Hero Is Modest

    The modest, unassuming engineer blushed like a school girl that night when the company retuned to their quarters as Chief Lips publicly complimented Tebbetts for his bravery and quick wit.

    An alarm rang in at 11:09 o'clock Saturday night for a fire at 499 East Third Street.

    The hose cart left the Hill street engine house on the run and the three big grays, the pride of the department, settled themselves under their harness in front of engine No. 3, the largest machine in the Los Angeles department.

    Charles Huston, the regular driver, was absent on leave and R. G. Hammel was substitute.

    For some reason Hammel did not take his place on the seat when the engine let the house.

    Engineer Tebbetts and his assistant, Fix, were busy firing and getting up steam.

    As Tebbetts straightened up after turning wide the steam valve he was horrified to see there was no driver on the seat ahead

                                       Assistant Thrown Form Engine
   The horses also realized that there was no one to control them and became frantic with excitement.

    Ahead the light hose wagon turned the corner at Hill and Third streets.

    The engine followed, skidding on two wheels and almost overturning. Tebbetts knew the danger of the big engine's running wild down the busy thoroughfares, and without a thought for his own safety started to climb toward the driver's seat.

    Assistant Fix was thrown from his position and was rolling on the pavement unable to lend a helping hand.

    Grasping the big suction pipe, Tebbetts raised himself from the rear platform.  He clung to the smokestack with one hand and finally worked himself to a precarious position from which he could make an uncertain leap for the driver's seat.  He took the chance and landed in a heap and barely escaped rolling under the massive wheels of the engine.

    Tebbetts seized the left rein that was wound about a rod, but realized that if he pulled that rein alone he would dash the maddened team into the hose wagon.

                                       Gets Horses Under Control   
Grouping for the other rein, which was caught on a bolt on the pole, Tebbetts finally gathered both reins in his hands, and pulling back with all his strength and calling to his grays finally succeeded in getting them under control at Main street.

    At that point hundreds of persons from the Belasco theater were pouring down the street and death would have been the fate of many save for the bravery and heroism of Engineer Tebbetts.

    He made no mention of his exploit, but on the return to the fire headquarters Chief Lips praised the young hero in unstinted terms for the daring and quick wit that had saved a terrible wreck.

    Tebbetts is about 26 years of age, is unmarried and lives at 1607 South Grand avenue.  He has been on the pay roll of the fire department five years and ever since his appointment he has been steadily promoted.

    He was first ladderman in engine company 10. His appointment was August 10, 1902.

    He was next promoted to be hoseman in company 4.  Later he was made a relief engineer, attached to engine 13.

    On November 25, 1904, he was appointed engineer on the big No. 3, the pride of the fire department.  His friends predict still further promotion and say that his rapid strides in the department are remarkable for so young a man.

    When asked about his exploit yesterday Tebbetts said:  "Oh I didn't do very much.  I saw that there was no driver and knew it meant a bad accident.  I did not stop to think about it but just climbed up and went for that seat.  I thought I could make it all right.  We boys take chances every time there is an alarm, and that was merely another chance."



The Los Angeles Herald, May 15, 1906




  "I only did my duty," said William W. Tebbetts of fire engine No. 3 to several of his friends who read in yesterday's Herald of his heroic act in climbing to the seat of engine No. 3 and securing the dangling reins while the team of grays were dashing down Third street at full gallop.

    "I saw the spare driver was not on his seat when we responded to a call Saturday night.  I climbed along the suction pipe and finally reached the driver's seat, grasped the lines and soon got the horses under control.  That is all the story."

    Modest and unassuming, Engineer Tebbetts does not seem to realize that he is a hero.

    Those who witnessed his daring deed say that is was an act of bravery seldom seen.  The three big grays were dashing along Third street uncontrolled.  The engine swayed from side to side and at Hill and Third streets nearly overturned.

    Unmindful of personal danger, Tebbetts worked his way along the swaying suction pipe, reached down for the dangling lines and finally brought the horses under control just as the big engine reached Main street, where hundreds of theatergoers were thronging the street.  Tebbetts has been publicly complimented by Chief Lips.

    All day yesterday he received congratulations but he is not affected by all this praise.

    He is still a brave, modest fireman, who has worked his way up from the bottom by always doing his duty in times of peril.

    Tebbetts is 25 years of age and has been in the fire department since the fall of 1902.


The Los Angeles Herald, May 16, 1906

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