Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

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

* * * * * * * * * *

Source: Los Angeles Fire Department Photo Album Collection
Circa  1928
Engine Company No. 29---Truck Company No. 4
158 South Western Avenue



  One fireman was killed, another suffered injuries to both arms and possible internal injuries early today when two sections of ladders on hook and ladder truck No.4 worked loose as the apparatus was turning south on Western avenue from Beverly Boulevard and hurled both men from their places on the rear of the truck, one fireman falling under the rear wheel and his companion being thrown several feet through the air to the curbing.

  The dead man, Hoseman Harry L. Tree, 27 years of age, of 700 West First street, died instantly, investigators report, the heavy wheel passing over the upper part of his body. Tree was an exhibition jumper and ladder-climber and held the world's record for safety-net jumping.

  Hoseman Arthur E. Huber, 453 North Lafayette Park Place, who was thrown from the rear of the truck by the same ladder, was carried for more than fifteen feet by the force of the blow. He was removed to the Georgia street Hospital where surgeons reported that he was suffering from shock, injuries to both arms and possible internal injuries.

  According to firemen on the truck and witnesses, the apparatus was traveling slowly at the time of the accident. The men had answered an alarm at 404 South Sierra Bonita avenue, where an ammonia leak had been reported in a refrigeration system, and were on their way back to the station when the ladders fell from the truck.

  Deputy Fire Chief Holmes assumed charge of the investigation and reported that he believed the loosening of the ladder clamps was accidental and not due to faulty construction or carelessness on the part of the firemen. 

Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1929.

Source: LAFD Photo Album Collection

Harry Tree atop of Truck 4.


Coroner to Probe
Accident That Killed
Hoseman H.
L. Tree L. Tree

   An inquest was scheduled for tomorrow by Coroner Frank Nance in the death of Hoseman Harry L. Tree, 27. of 700 West First street, who was instantly killed shortly after midnight at Western avenue and Beverly boulevard when thrown beneath the rear wheels of hook and ladder truck No.4.

  Tree, who held the world's record for safety-net jumping and who had thrilled thousands in exhibition jumps for the fire department, was returning to a firehouse with the company when two ladders worked loose and hurled him to the pavement.

  Chief Police and Fire Surgeon Wallace Dodge of the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital announced today that Hoseman Arthur E. Huber, 26, of 453 North Lafayette Park place, a member of the fire company, who also was hurled from the running-board of the apparatus as it turned a corner, would recover. Huber suffered injuries to his arms and body bruises.

  The truck company was returning from an alarm sounded at 404 South Sierra Bonita avenue, where a refrigeration system was found to be faulty.

  Battalion Fire Chief John Home investigated the accident and expressed the belief that the ladder clamps loosened on the frame of the huge 85-foot aerial truck, permitting two long ladders to drop as a left turn was being executed, and precipitated the firemen to the pavement.

  Fire Chief Ralph J. Scott today took personal charge of the inquiry.


Los Angeles Express, March 22, 1929.


  Three men, one a city fireman, and one woman were dead today victims of automobile accidents throughout toe Los Angeles area during the past 24 hours.

  Hurled from the rear of a speeding fire truck when one of the ladders to which he was clinging slipped out of place, Harry L. Tree, member of Truck Co. No.4 and holder of several world records for leaping into safety nets from dizzy heights, was thrown beneath the rear wheels of the heavy vehicle early today and crushed to death.

  The accident occurred as the truck was swinging swiftly north into Western avenue from Beverly boulevard. Tree and a companion, Arthur E. Huber, were tossed from the truck, but the latter, thrown clear from the wheels, escaped with minor injuries.......



Source: T. F. Schneider,
Captain, LACoFD
Head dive from sixth floor at Exposition Park.
Monroe Centennial Exhibition.
July 24th to August 5th 1923

March 22, 1929


    Harry Louis Tree, aged 27, of Truck Co, No. 4, was instantly killed on the night of March 21, 1929, 11:46 p.m., at the corner of Beverly Blvd. and Western Avenue, while responding to an alarm from 404 So. Sierra Bonita Avenue.
    Hurled from the Truck when a ladder became loosened, allowing him to fall in such a manner that he was caught by the rear wheel crushing his head.
    Brother Tree was the holder of several World's records for jumping into safety nets from dizzy heights and has taken very prominent parts in such feats here, both at Angeles Temple and at the Coliseum at our Annual Foot Ball Games.
    He was appointed in the Department on June 16, 1922.  Joined the Association, Oct. 1922; resigned the Department, Oct. 1, 1925;  reinstated in Department, Dec. 8, 1926; but was never reinstated in the Association.
    He was very conscientious and was well liked by all who knew him.
    Funeral services were held at Alveraz & Moore Funeral Parlors and burial in Evergreen Cemetery, Monday, March 25th, 1929, under the auspices of the Firemen's Relief Association, assisted by the Fire Department Band.

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.

  So it was for a period of nearly a full year, Tree was known as an ex-fireman. No one ever knew the exact nature of his work during his period of absence other than a few close friends who were not members of the department, but it was strongly rumored that he was working with his church. His name had barely begun to be referred to in the past tense when on an afternoon in December, the Chief Engineer received an application for reinstatement on the city's fire-fighting forces bearing the signature of Harry Tree. The application was approved by rather surprised superior officers and Harry was again made a fireman. He had lost his seniority and time but not his ability as a fire-fighter.

  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.

  As they approached Western avenue Shaver observed Fireman Smart prepare for the turn. The tillerman watched the traffic buttons slide by until the way was clear, then wound the wheel to the left to begin the necessary arc. He suddenly heard the unmistakable rattle of loose ladders and whipped his eyes back to the men ahead. The entire rear portion of the two side-mounted 20-foot ladders to which Tree and Huber were clinging for support were moving away from the apparatus! Shaver slammed a heavy boot heel on the signal button and whirled the tillerwheel in the opposite direction as the rear portion of both ladders rode Tree and Huber to the pavement. Tree was hopelessly locked by his right arm and pivoted on his back in a spin which threw his head directly under the big tiller wheels.

  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.

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