In Memory of
Fireman Harry Louis Tree
Truck Company 4
at Engine 29
Appointed June 16, 1923
Died March 21, 1929
Fall from Truck 4
Intersection of Beverly and Western
* * * * * * * * * *
Los Angeles Express, March 22, 1929.
The Grape Vine,1929
By Bob Patterson
THE Assistant Chief leaned back in his chair and hooked a thumb through his suspender. He held the paper at arms length and read the second paragraph again.
"Didn't he give any reason for this resignation other than this?"
The Battalion Chief sitting opposite him shrugged puzzled shoulders.
"Well, you know Tree, sir. His life was his own and if he figured he could 'better himself' as he puts it, then I suppose he really believes it."
"But the man has put four years in on the department. Is he dissatisfied with the job or does he want to leave for other reasons?" Before the other could answer he further queried: "Tell me what you know of Tree. What kind of a man is he?"
The other officer paused in thought. "I always knew him as a quiet type of man, sir. He had strong religious convictions and was a solid follower of Aimee McPherson's teachings. The boys were accustomed to ride him about his ideas and I imagine that might explain his reserved attitude. You'll remember he gave exhibitions of jumping into the net from the dome of the evangelist's temple and also a number of times from the big aerial and the training tower, so he isn't one to quit the job because he couldn't take a little bantering from the men. Harry seems to have plenty of good fire fighting nerve and a level-headed sense of duty."
"So you suppose this has something to do with his religious beliefs?" The superior nodded toward the paper.
"Well, I heard a few of the men making guesses as to whether or not Tree was turning to missionary work, but that's about all that I can tell you, sir."
From that point on the conversation of the two officers drifted to more
pertinent points of fire-fighting, it being mutually understood that Harry Tree would
receive an O.K. on his application for resignation.
Harry's past activities were seldom brought up for it was generally accepted that things hadn't worked out as expected. He became active in the Bureau of Public Relations in addition to his duties in the engine house, and shortly before his transfer to Truck 4 had perfected a valuable call system whereby the services of physicians in all or any part of the city might be had within a few moments should the rescue companies require it.
Truck Co. 4 was at that time located on Western near Beverly, in the station now occupied by 29s. It was in the command of Captain James Tango, serving under Battalion Chief Home. Tree had served only a few months on the company when on the night of June--,1924, a telephone alarm caused heavy fire boots to pound the floor in an answering rush for positions.
Huber and Tree had reached their positions on the left side of the truck and were already cinching up their axe belts as Tillerman Shaver twisted the wheel and cleared the doorway. Outside the night was clear with the chill of early spring now changing to warmer breezes, easily turned by the heavy weave of fire coats. Tree, with caution born of past experience, rattled the 20-foot ladders locked to the right side to test their security and then passed his right arms through the rugs, locking his body to the apparatus as was his usual custom. The ladder pins had been working out from time to time until it had been advisable to send in a requisition for repairs. The matter wasn't serious but it would offer the men that extra once of security if remedied.
The rig rolled into Sierra Bonita avenue and the men felt old man momentum trying to pull them off as the tillerman cut the wheels hard over to right. On reaching the point of alarm it was found that a domestic refrigerator had caused enough trouble to warrant the use of a Burrell. It is significant that no ladders were touched on the run. Truck 4 pulled away from the scene with the men in their same positions.
Shaver hunched his shoulders against the breeze which whipped about his exposed
position and silently cursed the designer who decided that all tiller seats should be set
just high enough in the air to escape the protection of anything that might be used as a
windbreak. The wheel chattered in his hands as they crossed the rough spot at Highland and
Beverly and he glanced down over the bouncing ladders at the rest of the crew. It wouldn't
be long until they'd be stomping up the stairs into the dormitory again. The ol' nest was
gonna feel good.
Tillerman Shaver paled as he felt the sharp side-jerk on his steering wheel and the accompanying bump of contact. The rig slowed to a stop within fifty feet of where the first signal was given and Shaver tore at his seat strap. Huber had been dragging with the ladders and had finally dropped to the pavement comparatively unhurt. Tree lay motionless in the middle of Beverly boulevard with his head resting on the inside rail of the car tracks. Shaver jumped to the pavement ahead of the rest of the crew and rushed toward Harry Tree but stopped ten feet short of his goal. There wasn't any use in going further for there was no possibility of first aid. Tree's metal helmet had been crushed by the heavy trailer wheel. The helmet had never left his head.
The men whitened and swallowed as they approached the scene and looked down at their former buddy. Someone summoned the coroner as one of the crew covered the body with a canvas equipment cover. Death was instantaneous.
Huber was rushed to the hospital where he soon recovered from slight injuries. Had the front pins also bounced out of their keepers the result might quite easily have been a double tragedy.
The investigation which followed Tree's death placed the roughness of the Highland-Beverly intersection to be the cause of the loosened ladder for it was testified that the locks and pins on all ladders were tested and found secure at 6:00 that evening. Both the auto fireman and tillerman had handled the rig expertly in order to prevent the tragedy and were moving at a speed of about twenty miles per hour when the accident occurred.
This is not an unexpected form of death for a fireman who actually spends about
fifty percent of his fighting duty clinging to the side of a racing apparatus which
dodging street cars, trucks, and that ever present car owner who doesn't want to stop. The
jerking sway of a heavy rig as if swings along traffic lanes has at one time or another
given every man on the department a feeling of uneasy doubt as to whether the ladder,
brace, or equipment to which he is subjecting the entire pull of his body will hold in
place. It is at a time such as this when the memory of Harry Tree has made nearly all of
us look down at the blurred warning of rushing pavement and grope for a more secure grip
on the rig.
This article appeared in the July 1944 issue of The Firemen's Grape Vine.
Copyright 1999 All Rights Reserved.