Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

In Memory of
Fireman Ben H. Morris
Rescue 66
B Platoon
Appointed June 23, 1937
Died April 6, 1940
Overcome by gasoline fumes attempting
rescue of civilian from pit.
General Petroleum
128th east of Figueroa

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April 15, 1940                                         THE GRAPE VINE                                Page Thirteen ____________________________________________________________________________________________
* E D I T O R I A L   P A G E *
Fireman loses life in Rescue Attempt

Fireman Ben H. Morris

"Greater love hath no man than this
that a man lay down his life for his
friends."   --   St. John 15:13.

  Fireman Ben H. Morris died saving the life of one and attempting to save the life of another of his fellow men. He unselfishly and unhesitatingly gave that most valuable possession, his life, for his fellow man. At nine o'clock Saturday night, April 6, 1940, Fireman Morris responded with Rescue 66 to 128th at Figueroa where two young men had been overcome by gas fumes in a gas trap. Without consideration of personal risk, he at once donned a gas mask and descended into the pit. He became fouled in the pipes in the pit and was overcome also by the fumes. Auto Fireman Milo T. Hawkins, in charge of Rescue 66, immediately put on the other mask and went in and dislodged Ben's body from the pipes so it could be taken to the surface. All efforts to revive Ben failed.

  Fireman Morris was born in New Jersey and was appointed to the Los Angeles Fire Department on June 23, 1937.

  Ben was a man who was indeed loved by all who knew him. He was endowed with that beautiful quality of seeing the good in all things. His devotion to his duty and his courage cannot but reflect the highest of honor upon the L.A.F.D.

  Ben was an excellent aviator, having been taught to fly in 1935 by Fireman Wilson Gillis, Truck 3, who is now on duty as a Lieutenant with the U.S. Army Reserve Air Corps. In fact he had completed his last lesson for his commission about an hour before he responded to his last alarm.

May we say in the words of Shakespeare:

"His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might
stand up
And say to all the world, 'This was
a man!'"


April 30, 1940                                                 THE GRAPE VINE                                        Page Fifteen _________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Board Picks
Fireman Hero

    Selection of Auto Fireman Milo T. Hawkins to receive the Fire Department's Medal of Valor for outstanding bravery was voted yesterday by the Los Angeles Fire Commission, the choice being the first for that honor since 1930.

    The honor is in connection with the efforts of Rescue Company No. 6 on April 13 to rescue Kenneth Jensen and Fireman Ben H. Morris, who succumbed from gasoline fumes in a pit near 128th and Figueroa Streets, 250 feet outside the city limits.

    The board also decided to send a citation for bravery of Morris, who died trying to rescue Kenneth Jensen, to his mother, Mrs. Rose Morris, and letters commending Martin S. Bushling, Charles Heaton, Steve Hergoth and Cameron Wright.

    The four men are credited with rendering every assistance in the rescue work and co-operating with the firemen.

    Only 10 firemen have ever received the Medal of Valor since it was created under former Fire Chief Archibald J. Ely, because it is not given for ordinary bravery in line of duty.

    The medal is awarded in cases of attempted rescue made at exceptional risk to life and the action of Hawkins in descending into the gas-filled pit after Jensen and Morris, facing the same situation which caused their deaths, was regarded as the exceptional risk.

    The official report of the case to the commission related that Hawkins, when he entered the pit, knew what he faced, because he told Bushling what to do in case he became unconscious while tying a rope to the two men and himself.

    Bushling carried out the instructions so that Hawkins was brought out soon enough to be revived.  At the same time the two others were removed.

    The commission authorized manufacture of one of the medals, which are made subject to a demand for them, and then will set a date for the ceremony to be held in connection with the presentation to Hawkins.

    The 10 who have received the honor are Lieut. Harry J. Griffin, Capt. Edwin A. Gripp, deceased;  Firemen Thorne R. Halvorsen, Frank E. Tuttle, Mario Scarabosio, John C. Hough, deceased;  Harry S. Merritt, Alexander J. McDonald, John L. Evans and Gordon B. Mansfield.

Source: Los Angeles Fire Department Photo
Circa 1940
Truck Company No. 66 and Engine Company No. 66
1715 West Florence Avenue

  By Bill Goss
T a lonely spot just to the north of 128th street, about a half mile east of Figueroa street on the north perimeter of the Athens-Rosecrans oil field two young men were in the midst of removing casing head gasoline from a trap in the drip pit of one of General Petroleum's wet natural gas lines passing through that area. The operation was one they had successfully performed for a long period of time without detection. They had inserted a "T" into the trap line that led to a receiver tank and from time to time, as their needs apparently arose, they would come to the pit and climb down into the 5x5x10-foot deep opening and by fastening a hose to the "T" would remove the gasoline.

  On this night of April 6, 1940, in the murkiness of early evening Ray Jensen, on the ground, called down to his brother, Kenneth Jensen, in the pit, "We've got about 60 gallons, Ken, that's enough for now," but he received no answer. Peering into the pit Ray saw his brother sprawled on the bottom unconscious. Following his first impulse, Ray ran to their nearby home and in hurried sentences reported to his father, Ned Jensen, what had occurred. Returning to the pit they enlisted the aid of a civilian, Charles Heaton, who happened to be passing by. Ray attempted to go down into the pit to secure a chain around the body of his brother so that they might raise him to the surface. About half way down he started to pass out from the gasoline fumes and only the quick work of Heaton saved the second son. Heaton decided that aid had better be summoned quickly if any rescue was to be made. About three blocks away Heaton went into a gas station to phone for help and there put through a call to the police department for assistance. While at the station a young mechanic, Martin Bushling, overheard the conversation and asked permission of his employer to go back and see if he might aid in any way in extricating young Jensen.

  Meanwhile the police department transferred the call for help to the alarm board of the Los Angeles Fire Department at Westlake, who immediately dispatched Rescue 66 to the scene. It was almost exactly 9 p.m. when Autofireman Milo T. Hawkins and Fireman Ben H. Morris climbed into the rescue rig and started out for the scene of the trouble. Arriving at the locale a matter of moments later, they found the father, Ned Jensen, lying unconscious on the ground near the pit. He had attempted to place the chain around his son, Kenneth, and had almost completed the job, when things started to go black. Making a desperate attempt to get to the top he just managed to get out of the hole when he passed out.

The two firemen quickly surveyed the scene and removing a resuscitator from the rig went to work on the elder Jensen. As Hawkins was handling the face piece of the instrument Morris took a look down into the pit and seeing the crumpled form of the younger Jensen called out to his partner, "We've got another one down below." Morris went to the rig and got a life line and a Burrell all-service mask. Putting on the mask and securing the life line on himself with the aid of the civilians who had gathered he descended into the pit to fasten the chain around the victim so that could bring him out. Just as he completed fastening the chain he, too, slumped over unconscious, and Hawkins, who was watching operations from the surface gave orders to the civilians on the life line to bring Morris to the top. Just as Morris' body cleared the bottom the lower part of his torso and one leg became wedged in the piping of the trap assembly. Try as they did, their efforts were unsuccessful and Morris was ensnarled tighter than ever. Knowing full well that the trouble at the bottom was due to the gasoline fumes having displaced the oxygen in the hole, Hawkins secured the other Burrell from the rig, those being the only breathing apparatus they carried, secured the life line around himself and made ready to go down and rescue his comrade. Before going down, however, Hawkins briefly outlined the operation of the resuscitation to Martin Bushling, who had been of considerable help to the

firemen, just in case he himself should be overcome. As it turned out it was a brilliant piece of thinking. Dropping to the bottom Hawkins had just succeeded in getting Morris free and on his way to the top when he, too, passed out. The civilians, under the guidance of Bushling, removed the two firemen to the surface and Bushling immediately placed the resuscitation on Hawkins, who revived shortly. Hawkins then put the resuscitation on Morris and started artificial respiration on Kenneth Jensen, using an inhalator for assistance, but neither one of them showed any signs of life.

  Meanwhile help in the form of Rescue 23 and an ambulance from the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital arrived. The doctor on the ambulance injected adrenaline directly into the hearts of the two men but without avail--they were lifeless. Subsequent investigation by the coroner's office showed that Fireman Morris and younger Jensen had both died from asphyxiation. Ben Morris paid the price in full with his life to aid a citizen of the community regardless of the kind of trouble he was in.

    At the instigation of Chief Alderson and following the action of a Board of Inquiry of Chief Officers headed by acting Deputy Chief Krumsiek, the Board of Fire Commissioners with resolution No. 174 posthumously issued to the mother of Fireman Morris, Mrs. Rose Morris, a "Citation of Bravery," which said in part: "commending his splendid courage and devotion to duty whereby he upheld the finest traditions of service in the Los Angeles Fire Department."

  At the same time the Board of Fire Commissioners also passed Resolution No. 175 awarding Autofireman Milo T. Hawkins a "Citation of Bravery" and the department's coveted Medal of Valor. Hawkins' citation read in part, "it being deemed he performed an act of conspicuous bravery by entering this pit, equipped with a mask which had proven ineffective in the case of Fireman Morris, who had preceded is the department opinion Hawkins displayed excellent judgment in instructions to a civilian as to the handling of department equipment and special bravery in entering the pit in an effort to save his comrade, knowing full well he was poorly equipped to do the job."

  On May 16, 1940, at 10 a.m. the Board of Fire Commissioners and Chief John H. Alderson made the presentation of the citation to Mrs. Rose Morris, mother of Ben Morris. The same day at 2 p.m. the citation and Medal of Valor were presented to Autofireman Hawkins at his company quarters, Truck 66.

  Previously, on April 16, at 2 p.m. taps sounded over the alarm system throughout the department. All companies of the department members were assembled at attention and the Commissioners' resolution No. 174, containing the citation of Fireman Morris.

  Ben H. Morris was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey March 22, 1907, and was appointed to the Los Angeles Fire Department on June 23, 1937. Funeral services were held at Groman Bros. Mortuary with Rabbi Serf Straus officiating, assisted by the Los Angeles Firemen's Relief Association. Interment was at Inglewood. Fireman Morris was carried to his last resting place by his comrades of Engine 54 and 66.

The Grape Vine, May 1945

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