Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

In Memory of
Fireman John H. Herbert
Truck Company 4
B Platoon
Appointed January 15, 1947
Died March 20, 1949
Suffocation in basement fire
Star Distributing & Manufacturing Company
345 East Third Street & San Pedro

* * * * * * * * * *

    Fireman John H. Herbert, Truck Company 4, responded 11:10 a.m., March 20, 1949, to a fire at the Star Distributing & Manufacturing Company (electrical manufacturing company), Third and San Pedro Streets, Box 1236.  Upon arrival they found heavy smoke coming from the basement.  Herbert, along with Auto Fireman Francis J. Kientz, Fireman Richard G. Roberts (Truck 24) and Captain Henry Sawyer (Engine 3) donned Gibbs breathing apparatus and took a line down into the basement.  Herbert became separated from his company and was later found by rescuers in several feet of water under the stairway.  Sawyer, Kientz, Roberts and William L. Ingram (Truck 24) were taken to Central Receiving Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation and other injuries.  Herbert was survived by his wife and two children.

Truck Company No. 4
Photo taken in front of old quarters days before move to new station at 800 N. Main Street.
Apparatus: 1946 Seagrave 100' Aerial (steel), Shop Number 920.

Rescue Squad Works in Vain Over Comrade

  One fireman died of suffocation and four others were hospitalized yesterday fighting a smoldering basement fire in an electrical manufacturing building at 3rd and San Pedro Sts.
  Dead is Fireman John H. Herbert, 29, of 4345 S. Budlong Ave., attached to Truck Co. 4.  Other firemen found him floating face down in two feet of water in the flooded basement of the Star Distributing & Manufacturing Co., 345 E. 3rd St.
  Desperate efforts for almost an hour by a Fire Department rescue squad and a Georgia Street Receiving Hospital doctor failed to revive him.
  Adrenalin was injected directly into Herbert's heart by the physician, but even this failed to bring a flicker of life.
  Near the rescue crew the other firemen, who were partially overcome by smoke, sat or lay on the sidewalk, refusing to be evacuated by ambulance until after hope was given up for their fellow fireman.
Others Overcome
  Thick billows of black smoke continued to pour form the stubborn blaze, gagging and choking members of the rescue squad.
  Partially overcome were Capt. Henry Sawyer of 11695 McCormick Ave., North Hollywood, attached to Engine Co. 5.  He also received superficial burns on his hands.  Others hospitalized were Firemen Francis J. Kientz, 5919 Arroyo Drive, Truck Co. 4;  William Ingraham, 4512 W Ave. 40, Truck Co. 24, and Richard Roberts, 1042 1/4 N. Normandie Ave., Truck Co. 4.
  The men were placed under observation for aftereffects of the smoke, hospital attendants said.
  They were pronounced in good condition.
  Seven companies and 11 pieces of equipment were required to quell the blaze.  Origin of the fire which caused an estimated $10,000 damage, could not be determined immediately by Battalion Chief William Tynan and Asst. Chief Pat H. Ferguson, who led operations.
Streetcars Delayed
  Hose lines in the street interrupted services of southbound red streetcars on San Pedro St. for more than an hour.
  Firemen without gas masks were driven back red-eyed and gasping and even those who wore the masks came out for frequent breathers.  And all of them wet, breathless and coughing turned first to inquire or just to stand silently and stare at their fatally stricken friend.
  Herbert, one of the first to enter the basement, had worn a gas mask when he went in, the chiefs said.  It was not on him when he was found, however, and firemen surmised that it had been knocked off by some obstacle which Herbert could not see in the dark rolling smoke.
  A paratrooper who served over seas during almost all of the European fighting, Herbert leaved his widow and two small children.

The Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1949


D E P A R T M E N T  O F  F I R E

March 24,1949


To:             Battalion Chief, Battalion 1, "B" Platoon
From:     Captain Henry C. Sawyer, Engine Co. 3, "B" Platoon
Subject:  Basement fire, 345 East Third St., March 20, 1949

          On March 23, 1949, 11:20 A.M., Engine Co. 3 responded to a basement fire at 345 East Third Street.  This Company laid dry lines to the front of the building, forced the front doors and stood by.

          On ascertaining that the fire was in the basement and that its location was not readily apparent because of the dense smoke, I notified Chief Tynan that I had been in the basement about two years ago.   With his permission I donned a Gibbs Breathing Apparatus, entered the basement and determined the location of the fire.  I could also hear an apparent flow of water from the ceiling and thought it was probably a sprinkler head separated by a partition; later it was found to be a broken water pipe.

          Entering the basement a second time, accompanied by two Truckmen with a 1 1/2" hose line, I found that the heat was somewhat greater and that the smoke, as before, blocked out all visibility. Some difficulty was encountered in clearing the hose line around the base of the stairs and rather than chance leading off at the wrong angle, I left the men at the nozzle and checked for the correct position of the fire, which, when I found it again, appeared to be behind a partial partition or some piled packing boxes.  At this time I slightly tripped over an object and fell into some sort of projection which in turn knocked me down, and at this time the oxygen mask nose clips were knocked from my face, the goggles disarranged and the mouthpiece partially pulled clear.  I breathed some smoke before I was able to readjust the equipment.  The mucous from my nose and the perspiration from my face prevented the nose clips properly gripping and from this point on I was unable to safely work without holding the clips intact with one hand.   The heat was increasing in intensity.  From this point until I emerged from the basement, I frequently was forced to retch because of the smoke that was absorbed when the mask was disarranged.  In order to do this it was necessary to partially pull the mouthpiece away and loosen the nose clips;  each time, I believed a little more smoke and heat was absorbed.

Battalion Chief,
Battalion 1,


March 24, 1949

          I could hear the men on the hose line muttering into their masks, and groping back to the nozzle man, I grasped him by the arm and said, "The fire is to the left, come on!"  Someone opened the nozzle full into my face and knocked me down, disarranging the goggles, nose clips and mouthpiece.  Water was forced into my nose and I absorbed some more smoke and heat.  Still retching, I reset the equipment and reached around to find the nearest man.  By the scuffling I was under the impression the men were in trouble and when I felt the nearest man, he seemed to be sinking to his knees.  The heat
was becoming very intense.  I ordered to the men thru the Gibbs, "Get out of here!"  The man I was holding turned around and started back along the hose line;  I did not actually feel the second man because I discovered my life line was hung up back near the fire and I retraced my steps and disengaged the rope.  Violent retching made this very difficult.  Returning to the hose line I searched its entire length and also groped close by to make sure that the men were gone.  After pausing at the base of the stairs to regain strength, I climbed up the stairs and was assisted to the street.  I was repeatedly assured that two men had emerged from the basement stairs ahead of me.

          I was taken to Georgia St. Receiving Hospital for treatment and put off duty.  At the hospital I talked with Autofireman Joseph Kientz, Truck Co. 4, who stated that he believed that Fireman Roberts, Truck Co. 24, was the man in the basement with him.  However, after talking with Captain Fred Newjahr, Chief Tynan and Chief Ferguson, I believe that the third man accompanying Auto fireman Kientz and myself to the basement was Fireman John Herbert, Truck Co. 4. Fireman Herbert's body was brought from the basement about ten minutes after I came out.  I can not offer any definite explanation as to why this man did not make his way out.



Captain, Engine Co., 3 "B" Platoon      


"Greater Love Hath No Man Than This"

Fireman, Fire Department
City of Los Angeles

    Born June, 8, 1919;  appointed to the department July 15, 1947,  and died March 20, 1949.  Fireman Herbert met death from carbon monoxide poisoning while fighting a fire which occurred at 11:10 a.m. March 20, 1949, in the basement of a building at Third and San Pedro Streets.  Answering the alarm in company with fellow fire fighters from Truck Co. No. 4,  Herbert donned a breathing apparatus and helped carry a hose line down into a heavy concentration of smoke and gases which had resulted from a smoldering fire in empty packing cases.  Due to the fact that the atmosphere was so dense and hot that firefighting operations could not be carried on from their position, the group of three men who were in the basement abandoned the hose line and returned toward the stairway.  In his attempt to locate the stairs Fireman Herbert became separated from the others.  Rescuers found him lying beneath the stairway with the nose clip and mouth-piece missing from his face.  He was removed to the fresh air and artificial respiration applied.  This treatment was shortly supplanted by a resuscitator and finally by an injection of adrenalin in the heart area.  The attending physician stated that Herbert had died while still in the basement.  Cause of death,  inhalation of carbon monoxide fumes.  This member gave his life heroically performing his duties and passed in the best tradition of the Los Angeles Fire Department.


  In Line of DUTY

John H. Herbert

  At ten o'clock Sunday on the morning of March 20th, the spacious new fire station at 800 North Main was unusually quiet. Church goers, in passing by, looked in on an apparatus floor which was deserted except for the waiting fire apparatus and the lone member on floor watch. A close observation could have detected a hum of activity behind one of the nearby doors. A Manual of Operations Drill was in progress.

  Clearly and concisely, one member of a group which formed an attentive semi-circle inside the room was reading aloud from a Department manual: "Article 3, Section 43...A rope life line shall be secured around members before permitting them to descent into shafts, deep pits, etc. The following line signals will be used: one jerk signifies All is Well, two jerks...Advance, three...Take up, four...Help."

  As the reader continued on, the collective thoughts of each member listening was varied. To some this was material for coming civil service exams, to others it was routine drill procedure which they knew they must know. Some of the newer men pictured emergency situations wherein such knowledge would be vital...older men remembered times when it was. The voice rolled on. No one there, with all their varied thoughts, could have pictured a scene which was to occur within just two short hours...a scene wherein at least three of them would be anxiously repeating those life line signals over and over to themselves while groping through a poison jammed atmosphere on East Third Street...a scene wherein one of them would soon lie dead...killed in line of duty...oblivious to all signals.

  The reader finished, discussion was completed and the books closed. Another drill completed for the records. The air of concerned attention relaxed into a confusion of voices as the men began returning to their routine duties. A lot of the remarks were being directed toward an athletic young man whom Department rosters listed as John Henry Herbert. But to the men who were busy ribbing him about his brand new haircut, he was simply "Herbie", a guy with a grin a yard wide. He was using that grin right now, while returning those remarks about his hair with a few well placed ones of his own.

  It was generally conceded around Truck and Engine 4 that Herbie was one of those kind of guys you had to have around to make up a good house. He fitted in...with the men and the work and the fire-fighting. He was the kind of a guy you looked for when you had a joke to tell...always seemed to laugh the loudest and the easiest. He was the kind who was in on the pitch on any conversation from sports to Department procedure...who could keep you hanging around the locker room listening to his general slant on life or battle yarns about his "outfit" when you knew you ought to be in bed.

  And when you were looking for a man to "Ride" during a hard fought game of handball, "Herb" was always just good enough and funny enough to draw the most attention. But he never seemed to get mad. He always had other ways of getting back at you and it usually ended up with laughs all around.

  But Herbie had his serious side when it came to things important. When somebody had to be shown how to don a Gibbs or lash a bangor, the Captain's phrase was familiar: "Herbie, show'em how".

  That passage in the Fire Department rating schedule which reads "He is the kind of a man who builds up the reputation of the Fire Department". It seemed to fit Herbie like an axe fits its scabbard.

  Well, that was the Herbie they were kidding that morning, but it was John Henry Herbert that they pulled out of a smoke-choked basement two hours later. News reports stated that his buddies refused hospitalization for the forty-five minutes necessary to confirm his death. Forty-five minutes? They would have remained on that corner for forty-five days if they thought it might bring him back. But we're getting ahead of the story.

  Let's go back again to that Sunday morning, when at 11:10 A.M. the new tapper began sounding its alarm and feeding out the long inches of alarm tape. As the crews dropped their work and ran for the rigs, they counted the bells 1...2...3...6! The Captain jerked the tape from its tapper and held it under the corresponding number on the running card. Third and San Pedro. "Truck only". As the second and third rounds of bells came in, the Engine Company Captain pushed the control buttons and sent the automatic doors sliding open and the outside signal-siren screaming its warning to traffic. With air horn blasting, the big aerial truck moved out onto Main, and a few seconds later its siren was clearing the way along Aliso Street and south on San Pedro. It was a relatively short run, and as the rig approached Third Street only a slight wisp of smoke was visible to the men. On arrival, the smoke indicated a fire somewhere inside the lower portion of the building and entry was made into the ground floor under the direction of Battalion Chief Tynan. With Engine Companies present and lines laid, the Truck crews forced open a door located approximately in the center of the building. There they found it...not fire, but smoke. Dark, dense and ugly, it boiled up out of a basement below. It was suicide to penetrate it without breathing equipment.

  Captain Sawyer of Engine Co. 3 was one of the first officers to arrive and he remembered having inspected the basement when he had been assigned to Engine 5. He donned a Gibbs breathing apparatus and went down to look for the fire. After a while he returned and reported to Battalion Chief Tynan that he had located the fire. Captain Sawyer then returned to the basement, this time assisted by two firemen and a hose line.

  Outside, Fireman Herbert and Auto Fireman Kientz were already donning Gibbs apparatus, assisted by members from Truck Company 4. After giving his equipment the required tests to insure safe operation, Herbert moved to the head of the stairs and awaited Kientz. During this time he was observed to be entirely at ease and breathing quite normally. When Kientz appeared carrying a Wheat Lamp, the two men grasped an inch and one half hose line and began following Captain Sawyer down the wooden stairway.

  The three men who were controlling the signal cords which were tied to the descending men began paying out the lines slowly and carefully. They were recalling those signals; 1...OK, 2...Advance, 3...Take up, 4...Help. They hoped that the last one would not have to be used.

  Down there on the stairs, the small group was progressing slowly. The surrounding atmosphere was a dark gray in the light of the Wheat Lamp. The powerful beam diffused almost immediately and visibility was limited to within a few inches of the men's goggles. Identification of each other even at the head of the stairs was difficult. Down here it was well near impossible. Kientz, for instance, did not know that the other man on his line was his friend Herbert until he compared notes with the others at the hospital that evening. All he knew now was that they were looking for fire and that the man who was somewhere in the mass of smoke ahead would tell them how and when and where to fight it. He also knew that it was uncomfortably hot.

  As the men reached the foot of the stairway, they turned to the left and traveled forward about five or six steps. Captain Sawyer laid a restraining hand on the shoulder of the man nearest him, indicating that both men should stay where they were until he gave them further orders. They stopped and waited, listening in the silence, seeing absolutely nothing as the officer left them to relocate the fire. Presently they heard a slight scuffling and a muffled coughing as if someone was gagging. Shortly there after, a light dimly appeared. A muffled voice said "The fire is on the left".

  Accordingly the men directed the nozzle, a Mystery type, to the left and opened it. The hiss and gush of the water streamed into that wall of smoke in front of them and disappeared. They moved the nozzle about in wide circles in an attempt to hit the fire and dissipate the hot smoke. To Auto-Fireman Kientz, the air about them seemed to grow lighter in color, the air hotter. If they were hitting the fire at all it was not evident from their position, and the heat was making that position increasingly unbearable. Upon an indication from his partner that they both should move, Kientz released his grip on his mouthpiece with his teeth enough to ask "Where...forward or back?" It was mutually agreed that they move back and one of the men began shutting down the nozzle.

  To Captain Sawyer too, it seemed advisable to retreat to a point from which they could more safely await ventilation, and he moved to instruct the men to leave. He was particularly uncomfortable and weak. Twice, since he had left the foot of the stairs, he had lost his nose clip and mouthpiece. The first time was after he had left the men near the foot of the stairs in order to relocate the fire. He had stumbled in the darkness, falling heavily and disarranging the breathing equipment. He had taken a gulp of the putrid air and it made him sick. He'd had to retch. That was the sound that the men had heard. The second time was after he had told the men were the fire was located. Due to the dense smoke he was unaware that he was standing directly in front of the nozzle. The stream caught him in the face and knocked off his nose and mouth pieces. Again he had to retch and breathe, for a short moment, the foul hot air.

  As the men on the hose line began backing up, Kientz could feel the other pair of hands at work shutting off the nozzle. It was his last contact with his friend Herbert, for when the line was dropped to the floor, both men became separated. Kientz turned to the left and made his way toward where he thought the stairway should be. His supply of air was getting more difficult to breathe. He moved searchingly forward...four, five...six steps. He stopped. He was reaching around him into a wall of nothingness and felt as if someone had turned him loose in a forty acre fog-covered field. He was getting lost. He did an about face and started slowly back. A firm tug on his arm told him that his signal cord was snagged. He tried to free it but couldn't. In order to move around to search for the hose line he had to remove the line from his arm. Eventually he located the lost hose line and felt along its length until he found the stairway. By this time his breathing was labored. The air seemed unusually hot in his lungs. He reached back and opened the oxygen by-pass relief. His respiratory center seemed as though partially paralyzed. He was sincerely sorry that he had tried to talk back there on the hose line. Dazedly he clambered up the stairway until he heard a voice say "get him out into the fresh air". Then he knew that he was safe.

  After having ordered the men to get out, Captain Sawyer crouched waiting at the foot of the stairs. His own signal cord had become snagged and he had found it necessary to discard it. He was becoming gradually weaker but refused to leave until he was sure that both men left the basement ahead of him. He had to hold his nose clip in place with his left hand because mucus from his nose caused it to keep slipping off. He realized that if he passed out he would lose control of the clip and begin breathing the carbon monoxide which lay heavy about him. Finally, when he felt sure that the second man had passed him on his way up the stairway, the officer crawled up the stairs himself. He paused near the top to ask if the two men had come out ahead of him, received and affirmative answer, and sank weakly to the stairs in a state of collapse. He had no way of knowing that the man who followed Kientz up out of the basement was not the same man who had gone down with him originally. He was another fireman who had entered the basement without the knowledge of either the Chief Officers or Captain Sawyer.

 When it was suspicioned that Herbert was still in the basement, the fastest course of action was chosen in locating a nearby fireman who was already equipped with breathing apparatus. Fireman Richard Roberts was in the immediate vicinity and he promptly started down into the smoke, knowing full well that two other men equipped like himself had just been brought out in semi-conscious conditions. He groped his way down the stairway, feeling along Herbert's signal cord, which for all he knew, may have been abandoned as had the others.

  At the point where the stair rail left the ceiling of the basement, he found that the cord had wedged in a crevice. He leaned over the rail and tugged at the lower portion of the cord. He found it taut and without response. As he continued down the stairway, Roberts logically reasoned that if Herbert was on the other end of that line, he must have traveled in a direction parallel to the stairway and toward its rear, thus causing the cord to slide back up the railing and lodge at the point where it met the ceiling. When Roberts reached the bottom of the stairway, he found water ankle deep on the floor. Assistant Chief Ferguson had ordered an engine company to hook into an outside auxiliary supply pipe...a move which proved most valuable in extinguishing the smoldering fire.

  Smoke, however, was still of vital concern. Roberts could still not discern by sight what he was doing or where he was going. He turned to the right and felt in the direction of the stairway railing until his hand again contacted the signal cord. He moved his hand down along the cord and fond that it led to a position directly beneath the stairway. There his hand contacted metal...the metal cover of a Gibbs breathing bag. He had found Herbert.

  He felt about for an arm or a leg by which to drag Herbert free. His searching hand contacted hair and a bare head. He then realized that Herbert had lost his helmet and consequently the attached face pieces. Losing no time, he grasped Herbert's turnout coat collar and tired to pull him free. The exertion caused a wave of dizziness to sweep over him and he knew that he would end up a casualty. He moved back up the stairway where he contacted two men with breathing equipment already on their way down.

  Between the three men, they managed to move Herbert's body to the stairs. At that point, Captain Norbury, who was one of the two men who had come to aid Roberts, became dizzy and weak. He was wearing a Burrell type mask. He remembered nothing which occurred from that point until he found himself out in the fresh air.

As soon as Herbert's body reached the clear air outside the building, he was given artificial respiration. Early arrival of Rescue Company 3 supplanted these efforts with a Resuscitator. Shortly thereafter, a Receiving Hospital Physician arrived and injected a shot of adrenaline directly into Herbert's heart. All treatment was to no avail. Herbert had died back there in the basement from carbon monoxide poisoning. It wasn't until his death was pronounced positively that the other stricken firefighters allowed themselves to be taken to the Hospital for treatment.

  Chief Engineer John Alderson arrived at the scene immediately after notification and promptly took the steps necessary to insure a thorough investigation. He personally checked the records of the breathing equipment and was satisfied that they were in order. He caused the apparatus which Herbert had worn to be placed in his private office under lock and key until it could be taken apart, bit by bit, for an exhaustive check. (This was later done and the apparatus was found to be in perfect condition.) He spent long hours questioning every man who could possibly contribute to a solution as to what happened to Herbert during those last few minutes in the basement.

 What did happen down in that basement from the time that Kientz felt Herbert's hands on the nozzle until the point when Roberts found his body under the stairs can only be a matter of conjecture. The fact that he missed the stairway by but a few feet was indicated by his position beneath it and the short length of the signal cord. The cause of his death was his exposure to carbon monoxide and the reason was most probably the absence of a nose clip and mouth piece from his face. There was no confusion whatsoever in the firefighting operations. The equipment used was in the best of condition. The men in command were all veteran firefighters. The Truck Company crew was Grade-A. The man who used that particular piece of equipment was unusually well versed in its operation and was in the best of health at the time. Nevertheless the man died.

  What it was that caused Herbert to lose a portion of his breathing equipment has been considered by a lot of thinking men. Some feel that he may have bumped his head and dislodged his face piece and helmet. Others reason that in attempting to back out from under the stairs, he caught the rear of his helmet on a projection and pulled it off with the attached face piece. Still others offer the thought that he had somehow loosened the straps before collapsing and the assembly simply fell off. And there are some who feel that Herbert became panicky and pulled the equipment from his face.

  We'll make an issue out of that last one. Herbert wasn't the panicky kind. He had been through spots before that were a lot tighter than that basement. He had a determination and sense of logic which weren't that easily upset. But in order to understand what we mean, you will have to hear a little about his past life.

  Herbert was born in Great Britain...Swansea, Wales, to be exact. Five years as a paratrooper for Uncle Sam gave him plenty of opportunities to get his sights on a lot of Krauts who were threatening his home town. He enlisted from his home at 4345 South Budlong, in Los Angeles, as a member of the Reserves before the Nips hit Pearl Harbor. In a short time he found himself in the middle of the fracas in Europe and was sporting an Army Officer's insignia and a terrific pride in the fighting group which he commanded, a part of the famed 101st Airborne Division. It was about that time that his parents joined in with the thousands of other Dads and Moms who prayed fervently that their boys would return. Their particular prayers were answered when five years later Johnny came marching home with a full set of battle ribbons, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and his own slice of a Presidential Unit Citation...not to mention a body full of shrapnel.

  But a lot went on during those years and each experience had a direct relationship with what he probably thought and did during his last moments in that basement on Third Street. The most significant perhaps was that incident which occurred after he had proved his leadership under fire and was given command of a unit which dropped out of the sky on "D" day near Normandie, deep behind the German lines. For five days Herbert led the dogged advance of his group against the enemy. On the sixth day the Germans had his outfit pinned down on two flanks. Staying under cover was of prime importance. But Herbert spotted one of his men who had become unknowingly exposed to enemy gunfire. He left his own protection to crawl out and pull the man to safety when an enemy mortar shell hit near his position. Killing two of his men, the explosion sent him reeling back with a shattered jaw and a body torn by shrapnel. In a bleeding and dazed condition he started a miraculous trek...a walk to a first aid station which took him across a railroad trestle in full view of enemy snipers and along a route infested with entrenched Germans. Yet he wasn't leads one to wonder.

  Herbert's wounds in the Normandie invasion put him in the hospital for two years. But he still found time to get back home and convince a pretty little brown-eyed girl named Kathleen that he was worth waiting for. And he also found time before his discharge to stop in at San Francisco and pick up a Golden Gloves Championship in the novice class...just like that.

  Then when everything was over and the war was blown out of existence at Hiroshima, Johnny came home to claim his girl who had waited. It wasn't long before he became a man of responsibility...about eight pounds of it, named David Alan Herbert. A good job and security was needed for the family now, so Herbert tried for the best available; the Los Angeles Fire Department. He made the grade high on the list and after some short tours of duty at Engine Companies 3 and 9, he wound up on Truck 4.

  Another indication that Herbert was different than average was his yearning for education. His locker at 4's was always stuffed with books from a course which he was taking on his days off, at Pepperdine College. Whenever the boys would question him about it, he would just look wise and tell them that he was taking a course in Psychology to try and figure them all out.

  It was along about this time that he showed up one morning with a new box of cigars. The name this time was feminine...Constance Lee. He had to buy a bigger car now because he had a bigger family.

  By now you must be getting the picture. Here was a man whose personality embraced the finer qualities of a leader, a fighter and a a lot of others which should be quite evident. It was all wrapped up in an all-around guy whom we just called "Herbie".

  It was Wednesday, March 23, 1949. A host of uniformed firemen stood in silent respect near a bronze casket covered over with an American Flag. They were there, with other friends, to bid a final goodbye to a buddy. As the last words of prayer dropped from the Minister's lips and as rifles were raised toward the Heavens in a final salute to John Herbert, a brisk breeze whipped up the Colors into a military snap and stirred the flowers around him. At least one man in that group was thinking that this is the way Herbie would want it. A man's goodbye. A Hero's goodbye. "Killed in the line of duty."

  Back there in France on that all the laws of fate, he should have died that day. We like to think that the Lord spared him then, for just a few more years, for a that he could enjoy a little more time with his that he could marry and leave behind him a couple of little counterparts of that we could be permitted to know him, and be always grateful that we did. Herbie would have wanted it that way.

The Firemen's Grapevine, April 1949


*  *  *  *  *

    The loss of a fireman at a fire at Third and San Pedro Streets on March 20, 1949 is covered in another story in this issue of the GRAPEVINE but the members of the department will be interested in the following reports covering the breathing apparatus used.  The Chief Engineer arrived at the scene of the fire while operations were still in progress and impounded the breathing apparatus.  The apparatus was then removed as was, to his office and placed under lock and key until the following day when complete tests as reported below were made on the equipment.

                                           March 22, 1949

John H. Alderson,

Chief Engineer


APRIL, 1949                                   14         THE FIREMEN'S GRAPEVINE


         In compliance with you telephone instructions, I hereby submit my findings on the Gibbs Self Contained Breathing Apparatus No. 3 of Truck 4, worn by Fireman John Herbert.
         1.  In compliance with suggestions and in the presence of Mr. Moore, of Mine Safety Appliance Company, the above mentioned Gibbs was examined without disturbing any of the working parts.  All parts such as the cooler, regenerator canister, breathing tubes and all external parts looked to be in good condition.  The oxygen cylinder in the apparatus contained approximately 5 atmospheres or 73.5 lbs. per square inch.  The Gibbs chart showed that the cylinder had 95 atmospheres of oxygen and that the cardoxide was good for 75 minutes use.
         2. Captain Babecky replaced the oxygen cylinder with a full one, then sterilized the breathing tubes, after waiting the specified time I then put the Gibbs on and wore the apparatus for 15 minutes, walking, climbing and running up and down stairs, developing breathing similar to that of working hard under fire conditions. The operation of the apparatus during this test was perfect.
        3. After the test I made a full check on the reducing valve which operated at 3 1/2 lbs.  Correct operating pressure is 3 to 5 lbs.  The safety valve test showed it operated at 7 1/2 lbs.  Correct pressure is 7 to 9 lbs.  The admission valve, gauge tube and valve held and showed no signs of leaking.  The cardoxide was found to be dry and proved effective while I wore the apparatus for 15 minutes.  The cooling can and regenerator cannister were submerged under water with reducing valve pressure and the test showed no leaks.  Mica disc check valves in the metal mouthpiece and the nose clip were in good condition.


     After wearing the apparatus for 15minutes and checking all parts and finding none defective, I am of the firm opinion that the above mentioned apparatus was in good working condition at the time it was worn by Fireman Herbert, and his death could not be attributed to his being sent into the fire wearing defective equipment.  To definitely point to the cause of the tragedy is rather hard, because it is difficult to reconstruct an exact situation as developed at the time of Fireman Herbert's death.  However one thought as a grim reminder should be brought to the attention of all members and is that all breathing apparatus should be inspected, handled and treated as though each and every members life depend upon its being in good working condition at all times.

                                                         s/s WALTER BABECKY,
                                                                  Capt. Rescue Service

APRIL, 1949                                   14         THE FIREMEN'S GRAPEVINE


                                    MINE SAFETY APPLIANCES CO.
                                                      325 Wall Street
                                      Los Angeles 13, California

                                               March 22, 1949

Los Angeles Fire Department
217 South Hill Street,
Los Angeles, California


       In accordance with your request, the undersigned went to your Rescue Service and at 2 p.m.., March 21st in conjunction with your Captain Babecky made a thorough examination of the Gibbs Self Contained Breathing Apparatus which was worn by a member of your department who lost his life while wearing the above equipment.

       We took the Apparatus from the case and found that there were only about 5 atmospheres of oxygen left in the cylinder.  Without making any mechanical tests we placed a new cylinder in the Apparatus and Babecky wore the equipment for a period of about 15 minutes.  The machine operated perfectly and after Babecky took off the Apparatus, we tested the reducing valve, the admission valve, and the safety valve and found them operating perfectly.  We also checked for leaks and found that the apparatus was tight.

      I would say, without any reservations, that if this equipment was properly worn that it would do the job it was designed for.

                                 Very truly yours,

                     MINE SAFETY APPLIANCES CO.

                                 s/s J. S. MOORE
                                 Los Angeles District Mgr.


APRIL, 1949                                  15         THE FIREMEN'S GRAPEVINE


Copyright 1999 All Rights Reserved.