Angeles' Unsung Heroes
Firemen Defy Death,
Find Body of Pal
By CHARLES E.
They may spend six days out of seven playing pinochle, cleaning
equipment and swabbing down floors . . .
But on the seventy day--well, that is something different
I mean the very brave men who make up the backbone
of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Yesterday this reporter watched your Los
Angeles Fire Department go onto action--action against a stubborn, dangerous
and heavy smoke fire.
Billowing smoke fell heavily; strangling,
suffocating fumes and more smoke packed the four upper floors of the
Gray building at 336 South Broadway. Smoke of such density that
it seemed almost to be a solid with each floor a vault of
Through the gray, black and steaming mass licked long arms of
I was not there for the heroic rescues of women and
men--but your firemen did their job on that score completely.
I was there, standing on Broadway as your firemen
rushed up a none-too-safe-appearing fire escape and without so much as
a look back to their chief down on the ground, stepped into the
inferno with hose lines and axes.
Stepped off of the fire escape, stepped off of
ladders into a raging inferno of seeming oblivion.
How they lived--how they even breathed--was a
mystery and will continue to be a mystery to this person who likes
his air clear and without even a trace of morning fog.
And they climbed those ladders and fire escapes as death-dealing
bricks, sharp-edged pieces of cornice and window sills sprayed down around
them like a hail storm of death.
But your firemen had a job to do --a job they had
been trained for --a job that they knew might bring death, injury, suffocation.
Yesterday's fire did bring death.
Death to Joe Kacl.
I saw Joe step into an upper floor of that
mausoleum of smoke and fire just as I saw dozens of others of your
firemen ignore every seemingly sense of reason and walk into the
machine gun fire of smoke and flames.
NEVER LOOKED BACK
Joe--or his companions--did not look back as they stepped into the
building's upper floor, belching fire and smoke in their faces.
They had a hose line to carry; a kicking, squirming, heavy hose
line charged with tons of power-driven water.
It is no cinch just to carry a charged fire hose
when the footing is secure, the air is clear and the destination
But Joe Kacl did not give that a thought as he and
his two companions charged the innermost inferno of death and danger.
Their hose kicked and slithered as they played it
on scorching hot flames that seared their faces and their hands
through dense, choking smoke.
This was Joe's job--and Joe was a good example
of every other member of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
The floor under their feet shook for a moment--there was a sickening
lunge--a racking shudder--fresh flames seemed to envelop the three men
with their shining nickel, water-spouting hose.
They tried to leap back--but the footing was
insecure--slippery, slimy floors; fallen debris over which they
tripped; eye scorching flames and lung breaking fumes.
They knew it was coming . . . .
Crash . . . and the footing that they could not see
dropped into an abyss of flame, smoke, falling timbers, heavy
machinery. Down they went--down onto an inferno of death.
Joe's two companions were catapulted--by some
freak of luck--to safety.
But Joe was carried down with an avalanche of
flaming timbers and smoking flooring, down into a pyre of charred
woods and fixtures.
The thousands who stood on Broadway looking up into
the raging smoke did not know that Joe was flying through space
towards his death--nor did his fellow firefighters.
And then, through the belching smoke of an upper floor window the
black helmet of a fireman showed for a moment. The smoke cleared . . .
he saw the man he was looking for on the street below . . . by chance
the fireman on the street looked up through the gaping hole in the
The eyes of the two firemen met and the fireman up
in the smoking building held up three fingers . . . he held them in
the swirling smoke and then turned the three fingers down.
And the fire chief who was also looking up at his
firemen, leaning precariously out of a scorched window, knew that
there of his men had been plunged through smoke, fire and debris into
. . .
Quiet seemed to settle over the thousands . . .
even the panting and snorting pumpers seemed to miss a stoke as that
lone fireman withdrew behind the blanket of smoke.
"Lets go get them."
Quietly the words were spoken. But the chief
only shook his head. No man could enter that first floor of
falling death and debris.
But when the fire was out 60 tired, exhausted,
smoke-filled, charred and singed firemen massed in front of the
Each of them were drenched to the skin . . . their
cumbersome clothing was heavy and water soaked on their shoulders . .
. but each of them resembled a high strung thoroughbred at the barrier
as they awaited the word to go in . . .
The chief went in first and returned . . .he nodded
his head and like a football team coming out of a huddle they charged
into the steaming lower floor.
Timbers were still falling . . . threat of death
rained down around them. But none of hem seemed to be even
aware. They tore at huge braces; they struggled with heavy
pieces of machinery--down under that pile of debris was a fireman.
Bit by bit they dug into the steaming pile . . .
occasionally a new torrent of death would fall around them and they
would make a hasty retreat. But they always returned until
finally . . .
The boys will be playing pinochle in the fire houses again today-- and
they will be swabbing down floors--but they will be thinking of Joe
Kacl and his young widow . . .