Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

336 1/2 South Broadway
November 6, 1939

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Fireman Joseph W. Kacl
Truck Company No. 3
B Platoon
Appointed July 27, 1937
Died November 6, 1939
Died from injuries-floor collapse.

Auto Fireman John C. Hough
Engine Company No. 3
B Platoon
Appointed June 5, 1918
Acting Operator for Deputy Chief
Died December 11, 1939
Died from injuries sustained attempting
rescue of Fireman Kacl.

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                                                           Engine Company No. 3
                                                             217 South Hill Street

Source: Los Angeles Fire Department Photo
Walt Pittman Collection

Truck Company No. 3                                                              
217 South Hill Street                                                               

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Joseph W. Kacl Killed Fighting 'Red Demon' 
in Broadway Building
THE GRAPE VINE, November 15, 1939

A Letter From Joe and the Gang
THE GRAPE VINE, November 15, 1939

THE GRAPE VINE, November 30, 1939

THE GRAPE VINE, December 15, 1939

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"These Men Have Died"

By Bill Goss
Fireman Joseph W. Kacl

Auto Fireman John C. Hough

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Los Angeles' Unsung Heroes
Firemen Defy Death,
Find Body of Pal


    They may spend six days out of seven playing pinochle, cleaning equipment and swabbing down floors . . . 
    But on the seventy day--well, that is something different again.
    I mean the very brave men who make up the backbone of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
    Yesterday this reporter watched your Los Angeles Fire Department go onto action--action against a stubborn, dangerous and heavy smoke fire.
    Billowing smoke fell heavily;  strangling, suffocating fumes and more smoke packed the four upper floors of the Gray building at 336 South Broadway.  Smoke of such density that it seemed almost to be a solid with each floor a vault of strangulation.

                                                                HEROIC RESCUES
    Through the gray, black and steaming mass licked long arms of scorching flame. 
    I was not there for the heroic rescues of women and men--but your firemen did their job on that score completely.
    I was there, standing on Broadway as your firemen rushed up a none-too-safe-appearing fire escape and without so much as a look back to their chief down on the ground, stepped into the inferno with hose lines and axes.
    Stepped off of the fire escape, stepped off of ladders into a raging inferno of seeming oblivion.
    How they lived--how they even breathed--was a mystery and will continue to be a mystery to this person who likes
his air clear and without even a trace of morning fog.

                                                                 HAIL OF DEATH
    And they climbed those ladders and fire escapes as death-dealing bricks, sharp-edged pieces of cornice and window sills sprayed down around them like a hail storm of death.
    But your firemen had a job to do --a job they had been trained for --a job that they knew might bring death, injury, suffocation.
    Yesterday's fire did bring death.
    Death to Joe Kacl.
    I saw Joe step into an upper floor of that mausoleum of smoke and fire just as I saw dozens of others of your firemen ignore every seemingly sense of reason and walk into the machine gun fire of smoke and flames.

                                                         NEVER LOOKED BACK
    Joe--or his companions--did not look back as they stepped into the building's upper floor, belching fire and smoke in their faces.  They had a hose line to carry;  a kicking, squirming, heavy hose line charged with tons of power-driven water.
    It is no cinch just to carry a charged fire hose when the footing is secure, the air is clear and the destination known.
    But Joe Kacl did not give that a thought as he and his two companions charged the innermost inferno of death and danger.
    Their hose kicked and slithered as they played it on scorching hot flames that seared their faces and their hands through dense, choking smoke.
    This was Joe's job--and Joe was a good example of every other member of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

                                                          FLOOR SHAKES
    The floor under their feet shook for a moment--there was a sickening lunge--a racking shudder--fresh flames seemed to envelop the three men with their shining nickel, water-spouting hose.
    They tried to leap back--but the footing was insecure--slippery, slimy floors;  fallen debris over which they tripped;  eye scorching flames and lung breaking fumes.
    They knew it was coming . . . .
    Crash . . . and the footing that they could not see dropped into an abyss of flame, smoke, falling timbers, heavy machinery.  Down they went--down onto an inferno of death.
    Joe's two companions were catapulted--by some freak of luck--to safety.
    But Joe was carried down with an avalanche of flaming timbers and smoking flooring, down into a pyre of charred woods and fixtures.
    The thousands who stood on Broadway looking up into the raging smoke did not know that Joe was flying through space towards his death--nor did his fellow firefighters.

                                                       FACE AT WINDOW
    And then, through the belching smoke of an upper floor window the black helmet of a fireman showed for a moment. The smoke cleared . . . he saw the man he was looking for on the street below . . . by chance the fireman on the street looked up through the gaping hole in the smoke.
    The eyes of the two firemen met and the fireman up in the smoking building held up three fingers . . . he held them in the swirling smoke and then turned the three fingers down.
    And the fire chief who was also looking up at his firemen, leaning precariously out of a scorched window, knew that there of his men had been plunged through smoke, fire and debris into . . . 
    Quiet seemed to settle over the thousands . . . even the panting and snorting pumpers seemed to miss a stoke as that lone fireman withdrew behind the blanket of smoke.
    "Lets go get them."
    Quietly the words were spoken.  But the chief only shook his head.  No man could enter that first floor of falling death and debris.
    But when the fire was out 60 tired, exhausted, smoke-filled, charred and singed firemen massed in front of the building's entrance.
    Each of them were drenched to the skin . . . their cumbersome clothing was heavy and water soaked on their shoulders . . . but each of them resembled a high strung thoroughbred at the barrier as they awaited the word to go in . . . 
    The chief went in first and returned . . .he nodded his head and like a football team coming out of a huddle they charged into the steaming lower floor.
    Timbers were still falling . . . threat of death rained down around them. But none of hem seemed to be even aware.  They tore at huge braces;  they struggled with heavy pieces of machinery--down under that pile of debris was a fireman.
    Bit by bit they dug into the steaming pile . . . occasionally a new torrent of death would fall around them and they would make a hasty retreat.  But they always returned until finally . . . 
The boys will be playing pinochle in the fire houses again today-- and they will be swabbing down floors--but they will be thinking of Joe Kacl and his young widow . . .


Newspaper unknown, November7, 1939

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