Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

In Memory of
Fireman Donald J. Romps
Truck Company 30
B Platoon
Appointed May 12, 1962
Died September 11, 1970
Died of suffocation in commercial structure fire.
San Pedro and 9th Street

* * * * * * * * * *

Fireman Donald J. Romps

I N  M E M O R I A M

  An 8-year veteran of the Los Angeles City Fire Department, Fireman Donald J. Romps, lost his life fighting a greater alarm fire at 857 South San Pedro.  Funeral Services were held on Wednesday, September 16, 1970, at 1030 hours at St. Bernardine Church, 22410 Calvert St. in Woodland Hills.  Interment followed at San Fernando Mission Cemetery.  Fireman Romps was born on January 12, 1940 in Chicago, Illinois.  He was appointed to the Fire Department on May 12, 1962 and had worked at Mt. Patrol 1, Engine 97, Engine 88, Westlake (dispatch), Coldwater (dispatch), Truck 94, Squad 22, Engine 30 and Truck 30.

  In addition to Fireman Romps, three other firemen suffered injures.  Nine City fire units under Division Commander Joseph Winn battled the stubborn fire for 22 minutes.  The major portion of the blaze was confined to the second floor of a three story commercial building.  The entire structure was filled with dense smoke.  The loss to the building and contents has been estimated at over $300,000.  The building was used for the manufacturing of clothing apparel.  Arson units are investigating the cause.

Friday, September 11, 1970     

1934 hrs, Audio alarm, box 9th and San Julian, corrected to 9th and San Pedro.  Used 5 sections of 2-1/2", 800' 1-1/2", 150' of 1", laid from San Pedro off of Pump 9.  Entered the building from the second floor balcony of fire escape.  Took 2 1-1/2" lines in.  Truck Co. checked 3rd floor for extension.  Used 1" and 1-1/2" line to cover personnel trapped and out of air.  Fireman Rainey (T-30C) and Fireman Romps (T-30B)  air bottles expended, removed by aerial and taken to Central Rec.  Frm. Rainey satisfactory condition, Frm Romps deceased at this writing.

Fire Station 30 Journal entry.

                        Truck Company No. 30     
Fireman Reams Rainy, Fireman Ed Burnham,   Fireman Walt Spomer, Fireman Harley Harper, 
Engineer Jim Birken and Captain Bob Foster.                                                                                    

1962                                                                                                       Source: Battalion Chief Larry Schneider


November 10, 1970

TO:          Bureau Commander, 
             Bureau of Fire Suppression and Rescue

FROM:        Ass't. Chief T. T. Whippo, Battalion Chief 
             W. B.    Nash, and Battalion Chief A. E. Jordan


In pursuit of our assignment "to investigate the actions and conduct of Fireman Reams W. Rainey, Truck Company 30 "C" Platoon, who was involved in an attempted rescue of Fireman Donald J. Romps on September 11, 1970, "the above named Committee has convened twice to interview Fireman Rainey as well as others to secure the essential information necessary to reach a judgment and make recommendations.

On November 5, 1970 at Fire Station No. 22, we interviewed Fireman Rainey and Captain Robert N. Foster, Engine 22, "C" Platoon.  The latter officer was in charge of the activities of Truck Company 30, at the greater alarm fire, 1934 hours, 857 San Pedro Street.

On November 6, 1970 at Fire Station No. 30, we interviewed Engineer Pat O. Tierney, Engine Company 30, "B" Platoon and Fireman Lee R. Hook and F. Wayne Humbard both of Truck Company 30, "B" Platoon.

The Committee, accompanied by Engineer Tierney, also visited the fire damaged premises at 857 South San Pedro Street on November 6, 1970.

Step by step our questioning and inspecting developed a dramatic pattern of actions taken by Firemen under conditions of extreme personal risk or actions of such character as to require much initiative and ability.

To understand and appreciate the situation as it existed on the second floor of the involved structure, it must be realized that the floor of the involved structure was charged with the thick, black smoke common to burning plastic materials.  The concrete-steel building was tightly sealed.  Windows were of steel sash and frame with an openable portion that operated by swinging out from the bottom on a top hinge.  These windows were painted to prevent entry of any light and were bolted shut.  There was no visibility and every cubic inch o f space was filled with black, oxygen deficient, carbon monoxide laden smoke.

Several members of Task Force 30 equipped with breathing apparatus, entered this floor from the fire escape balcony.  Ground ladders placed by the Truckmen provided access to the balcony from the street.  Two lines of 1 1/2" hose were advanced on to the floor. Flashlights were utterly incapable of smoke penetration, so the lines were advanced by feeling the way.  Entrance from the balcony was to a small room and the walls has to be felt over before doors were found.  One led into another small office and from both rooms doors led into the large manufacturing area common to the garment industry.  Long parallel work tables with intervening aisles comprised the situation here.

Progress was slow, and only by sound and feel were the various members aware of each other.  No great amount of heat was encountered at first, so no water was used.  Air supplies were running low and some of the men were switching to reserve supplies and turning back to the balcony and fresh air.

Bureau Commander              -2-             November 10, 1970

Fireman Rainey, exploring ahead of his hose line had felt his way down an aisle between work benches.  His experienced touch told him it was a garment industry work table and he felt out its length which took him some fifty feet toward the seat of the fire which was beyond another partition and was then being actively engaged by Engine Company 9.  Rainey felt a blast of heat.  This probably occurred when 9's put hose streams on the fire and drove the heat toward an open door in the partition and thence through toward Rainey

Behind Rainey, moving up with the 1 1/2" hose line was Fireman Donald J. Romps and Engineer Tierney.  Romps preceded Tierney and was on the nozzle.  At about that time, Romps and Tierney became low on air and in the muffled voices that come through breathing apparatus face pieces, so informed each other.  Romps did not sound as if in trouble and Tierney said, "let's go out" and started out following the hose line.  When he turned at the corner made by the end of the work table, he came to confusing coils of hose and so dropped to his hands and crawled on out.  Tierney thought that Romps was right behind him.

Captain Foster was nearby and he too was running low on air.  Some of the breathing apparatus in use was of the type that rings a bell when the air supply reaches reserve status.  Captain Foster could hear these and knew that likely the air supplies of the men with him were all being depleted.  Captain Foster made his was toward the balcony.

Fireman Rainey after experiencing the heat blast described before, methodically turned and retraced his path down the work table toward the balcony.  After an appropriate distance he felt for the corner and left turn he knew he must make.  This was about where the above described coils of hose lay.  At about this time he was hit from behind by a lunging Fireman (Romps) and driven forward.  Rainey realized at once that the man had no breathing apparatus face piece on (he had probably removed it in panic) and so, with remarkable control, Rainey flipped his by-pass air switch on, removed his own face piece and alternately began placing it on Romps face and then on his own.  All of this as he staggered forward forced by the collapsing man at his side.  They moved thus for about fifteen feet to the front wall of the building.  (This was the same wall that the exterior fire escape balcony was mounted on and about twenty-five to thirty feet south).

When Rainey removed his face piece, it, of course, was filled by the smoke and so Rainey too began to get insufficient oxygen and heavy doses of carbon monoxide as he would replace it on his face.  As they both collapsed at the wall, Rainey, almost unconscious himself, dimly saw light through a window glass and, in a last effort, broke the glass with his flashlight and called out the opening, "Fireman down".  He then passed out completely.

Outside his cry was heard by Captain Foster and Engineer Tierney who had just emerged from the building and by other members of Task Force 30, on the ground.

Captain Foster and Engineer Tierney secured fresh air bottles, estimated where they would have to get to and went immediately back into the building.  One, then two ground ladders were thrown up to the broken windows.  Quickly Fireman Lee R. Hook was at the top of one and Fireman F. Wayne Humbard at the other.  Everyone at this moment thought that they were concerned with only one fallen Fireman.

Hook, a large, physically strong man, reached through the two broken window panes (about 12" x 15") and with one arm lifted Rainey and with the other placed his breathing apparatus face piece on the man's face.  Fresh air was forced over Rainey's face through the by-pass valve.  Humbard reached in to help and both men on the ladder were subjected to terrific punishment as smoke poured out the broken window and over their faces.  An Elder resuscitator was brought to position and its face piece sent up and substituted for that of the breathing apparatus.  This resuscitation, so begun, never ceased until Rainey revived much later in the hospital.

Bureau Commander               -3-            November 10, 1970

Hook and Humbard realized they must bring Rainey out the window so others raised the aerial ladder to the adjoining window.  Precious time was expended while Hooks pecked futilely at the steel window pane dividers with bolt cutters and hack saw.  During this, Humbard supported Rainey and held the face piece on his face.

In much less time than the telling it takes, a disc power saw was sent up the aerial ladder and the adjoining window quickly and adequately cut.

Inside, Foster and Tierney after torturously negotiating the two small rooms, (neither had been in the one in the south during their previous entry) felt their way to Rainey.  The disc saw was just completing its cut and it left a sharp upward thrusting piece of steel in the bottom of the opening.   Disregarding this sharp impediment, Foster and Tierney quickly and tenderly lifted Rainey (Elder face piece always in position) to eager hands on the aerial ladder.  The sharp steel snagged at Rainey's turnout coat almost as if the building was loath to give up its victim.  Shortly thereafter, Rainey's apparently lifeless body was being transported to he hospital.

As Foster and Tierney settled back to rest before starting out, Foster's hand encountered a Fireman's boot and in this manner, it was learned that a second Fireman was down.  This was Donald Romps and once again the program of ceaseless resuscitation was begun.

Determined that the sharp spike should not snatch at a victim this time, Tierney called for a sledge hammer which was quickly sent up the ladder and using it, he quickly flattened the steel.  The careful removal pattern was repeated and Romp's body was sent futilely on its way to a hoped for miracle.

The outcome of this entire action is known to us all now.  What may not be so generally known however, are the details of the heroic action described above.  This Board was tremendously impressed and affected, and we agree that recognition should be bestowed where indicated.  Accordingly, we recommend as follows: That the department's Medal of Valor be awarded to Fireman Reams W. Rainey.  He, under conditions of extreme personal risk and when he on his own was in no jeopardy at all, shared his air supply with a falling comrade in a valiant attempt to save his life.  Given a little more time, his great efforts might have succeeded.  As it was, he almost gave up his own life in his selfless effort.

That Captain Robert N. Foster, Engineer Pat O. Tierney and Fireman Lee R. Hook and F. Wayne Humbard be each issued a Letter of Special Commendation.  We believe that their actions described above were unusual and required much initiative and ability. They are worthy of special recognition in the finest sense and tradition of the Fire Service.

T. T. Whippo              
Division III Commander     
"C" Platoon

W. B. Nash
Battalion 4 Commander
"C" Platoon

A. E. Jordan
Battalion 5 Commander
"C" Platoon



The Ardee Sportswear Building
San Pedro and Ninth Street
Photo taken before sunrise, early Saturday morning.
                                                                                                                                             Source: LAFD Photo

The window opening over the "C" in California was where Rainey and Romps were located.
                                                                                Source: LAFD Photo


Inside view of room where Rainey and Romps were found.

                                                                                Source: LAFD Photo

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