In Memory of
Fireman Ben H. Morris
Appointed June 23, 1937
Died April 6, 1940
Overcome by gasoline fumes attempting
rescue of civilian from pit.
128th east of Figueroa
* * * * * * * * * *
April 15, 1940
THE GRAPE VINE
Page Thirteen ____________________________________________________________________________________________
Fireman Ben H. Morris died saving the life of one and attempting to save the life of another of his fellow men. He unselfishly and unhesitatingly gave that most valuable possession, his life, for his fellow man. At nine o'clock Saturday night, April 6, 1940, Fireman Morris responded with Rescue 66 to 128th at Figueroa where two young men had been overcome by gas fumes in a gas trap. Without consideration of personal risk, he at once donned a gas mask and descended into the pit. He became fouled in the pipes in the pit and was overcome also by the fumes. Auto Fireman Milo T. Hawkins, in charge of Rescue 66, immediately put on the other mask and went in and dislodged Ben's body from the pipes so it could be taken to the surface. All efforts to revive Ben failed.
Fireman Morris was born in New Jersey and was appointed to the Los Angeles Fire Department on June 23, 1937.
Ben was a man who was indeed loved by all who knew him. He was endowed with that beautiful quality of seeing the good in all things. His devotion to his duty and his courage cannot but reflect the highest of honor upon the L.A.F.D.
Ben was an excellent aviator, having been taught to fly in 1935 by Fireman Wilson Gillis, Truck 3, who is now on duty as a Lieutenant with the U.S. Army Reserve Air Corps. In fact he had completed his last lesson for his commission about an hour before he responded to his last alarm.
May we say in the words of Shakespeare:
"His life was gentle, and the elements
April 30, 1940
THE GRAPE VINE
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Selection of Auto Fireman Milo T. Hawkins to receive the Fire Department's Medal of Valor for outstanding bravery was voted yesterday by the Los Angeles Fire Commission, the choice being the first for that honor since 1930.
The honor is in connection with the efforts of Rescue Company No. 6 on April 13 to rescue Kenneth Jensen and Fireman Ben H. Morris, who succumbed from gasoline fumes in a pit near 128th and Figueroa Streets, 250 feet outside the city limits.
The board also decided to send a citation for bravery of Morris, who died trying to rescue Kenneth Jensen, to his mother, Mrs. Rose Morris, and letters commending Martin S. Bushling, Charles Heaton, Steve Hergoth and Cameron Wright.
The four men are credited with rendering every assistance in the rescue work and co-operating with the firemen.
Only 10 firemen have ever received the Medal of Valor since it was created under former Fire Chief Archibald J. Ely, because it is not given for ordinary bravery in line of duty.
The medal is awarded in cases of attempted rescue made at exceptional risk to life and the action of Hawkins in descending into the gas-filled pit after Jensen and Morris, facing the same situation which caused their deaths, was regarded as the exceptional risk.
The official report of the case to the commission related that Hawkins, when he entered the pit, knew what he faced, because he told Bushling what to do in case he became unconscious while tying a rope to the two men and himself.
Bushling carried out the instructions so that Hawkins was brought out soon enough to be revived. At the same time the two others were removed.
The commission authorized manufacture of one of the medals, which are made subject to a demand for them, and then will set a date for the ceremony to be held in connection with the presentation to Hawkins.
The 10 who have received the honor are Lieut. Harry J. Griffin, Capt.
Edwin A. Gripp, deceased; Firemen Thorne R. Halvorsen, Frank E.
Tuttle, Mario Scarabosio, John C. Hough, deceased; Harry S. Merritt,
Alexander J. McDonald, John L. Evans and Gordon B. Mansfield.
On this night of April 6, 1940, in the murkiness of early evening Ray Jensen, on the ground, called down to his brother, Kenneth Jensen, in the pit, "We've got about 60 gallons, Ken, that's enough for now," but he received no answer. Peering into the pit Ray saw his brother sprawled on the bottom unconscious. Following his first impulse, Ray ran to their nearby home and in hurried sentences reported to his father, Ned Jensen, what had occurred. Returning to the pit they enlisted the aid of a civilian, Charles Heaton, who happened to be passing by. Ray attempted to go down into the pit to secure a chain around the body of his brother so that they might raise him to the surface. About half way down he started to pass out from the gasoline fumes and only the quick work of Heaton saved the second son. Heaton decided that aid had better be summoned quickly if any rescue was to be made. About three blocks away Heaton went into a gas station to phone for help and there put through a call to the police department for assistance. While at the station a young mechanic, Martin Bushling, overheard the conversation and asked permission of his employer to go back and see if he might aid in any way in extricating young Jensen.
Meanwhile the police department transferred the call for help to the alarm board
of the Los Angeles Fire Department at Westlake, who immediately dispatched Rescue 66 to
the scene. It was almost exactly 9 p.m. when Autofireman Milo T. Hawkins and Fireman Ben
H. Morris climbed into the rescue rig and started out for the scene of the trouble.
Arriving at the locale a matter of moments later, they found the father, Ned Jensen, lying
unconscious on the ground near the pit. He had attempted to place the chain around his
son, Kenneth, and had almost completed the job, when things started to go black. Making a
desperate attempt to get to the top he just managed to get out of the hole when he passed
Meanwhile help in the form of Rescue 23 and an ambulance from the Georgia Street
Receiving Hospital arrived. The doctor on the ambulance injected adrenaline directly into
the hearts of the two men but without avail--they were lifeless. Subsequent investigation
by the coroner's office showed that Fireman Morris and younger Jensen had both died from
asphyxiation. Ben Morris paid the price in full with his life to aid a citizen of the
community regardless of the kind of trouble he was in.
At the same time the Board of Fire Commissioners also passed Resolution No. 175 awarding Autofireman Milo T. Hawkins a "Citation of Bravery" and the department's coveted Medal of Valor. Hawkins' citation read in part, "it being deemed he performed an act of conspicuous bravery by entering this pit, equipped with a mask which had proven ineffective in the case of Fireman Morris, who had preceded him...it is the department opinion Hawkins displayed excellent judgment in instructions to a civilian as to the handling of department equipment and special bravery in entering the pit in an effort to save his comrade, knowing full well he was poorly equipped to do the job."
On May 16, 1940, at 10 a.m. the Board of Fire Commissioners and Chief John H. Alderson made the presentation of the citation to Mrs. Rose Morris, mother of Ben Morris. The same day at 2 p.m. the citation and Medal of Valor were presented to Autofireman Hawkins at his company quarters, Truck 66.
Previously, on April 16, at 2 p.m. taps sounded over the alarm system throughout the department. All companies of the department members were assembled at attention and the Commissioners' resolution No. 174, containing the citation of Fireman Morris.
Ben H. Morris was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey March 22, 1907, and was
appointed to the Los Angeles Fire Department on June 23, 1937. Funeral services were held
at Groman Bros. Mortuary with Rabbi Serf Straus officiating, assisted by the Los Angeles
Firemen's Relief Association. Interment was at Inglewood. Fireman Morris was carried to
his last resting place by his comrades of Engine 54 and 66.
The Grape Vine, May 1945
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