Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive


June11, 2004

Memories: Battalion Chief Robert J. MacMillan, LAFD, Retired

Ted Aquaro
Memory Book Committee

Information regarding the On Duty death of F/F Brian Phillips FS-102

The following information relates to the dearth of F/F Brian Phillips during a lumberyard fire in North Hollywood at the corner of Lankershim Blvd. and Sherman Way.
At the time I was a new Battalion Chief assigned to Battalion 10 "B" Platoon.  I was dispatched at the 2nd alarm Battalion Chief to this fire.  responding east on Sherman Way from Van Nuys there was already evidence of a large working fire in progress.
On arrival I was assigned the East and South side of the fire building, which contained free standing wood products and the stacks of exposed lumber that were already on fire.   I had proceeded through to the West side of the yard to the South side checking exposures.  As I continued around the East side of the fire building I noted Truck 102 parked at an angle on the southwest corner of the intersection,  putting their ladder pipe into operation on to the fire building.  I also noted a large crowd of people standing on the other side of Lankershim Blvd. watching the fire.
I was about half way up the blank wall side of the fire building when I heard the crowd make a strange noise.  I looked up and saw that the ladder pipe on Truck 102 had come disconnected from the top of the raised ladder.  The ladder pipe assembly, a firefighter and the ladder pipe hose was snaking back away from the top of the ladder.  The only thing holding the hose to the ladder was a hose strap half way down the ladder.
As the snaking hose changed directions the firefighter was snapped away form the assembly and started a spread eagle, turning fall towards the street below.  Firefighter Phillips hit the street about head first, at the curb line, just a short distance from the turntable of Truck 102.
Rescue Ambulance 89 were parked a short distance away watching the fire.  A long time friend of mine, retired fireman Dan Martin who returned, as a paramedic was the attendant on duty.  He immediately instructed his driver to move the ambulance across the street to Firefighter Phillips location, where they immediately placed him on the gurney and into the ambulance.
As I arrived to the ambulance, Dan Martin advised me that the firefighter would not survive the fall.  Rescue 89 immediately transported their patient to the hospital.  Paramedic Martin later told me that his immediate concern was to remove the fallen firefighter from the presence of his other crew members, who had also witnessed the fall, as quickly as possible for their sake.
I reported the information to the Command Post and Task Force 102 was immediately removed from the firefighting duty.  Truck 102 apparatus was left in position pending an investigation that would follow to determine the cause of the incident.
Fire Commissioner John Lawson was in the crowd as he lived in Fire Station 89's district and he routinely attended large fires in their district, and we were friends.  He came to me and I advised him of Paramedic Martin's statement and he immediately went to the Command Post to offer his assistance.
The image of the snaking firefighter and the ladder pipe assembly will always stay with me as if it happened yesterday.  To this day I can remember thinking at the time, "This can not be happening to us".

Robert J. MacMillan

Hi Ted

I hope the attached information will be of value to you and the Committee.

In writing the (above) account of Brian Philips death I did not go into the finding of the investigation that took place that night, as I did not think it was necessary, or needed to be published.  But as a friend I can tell you for background, what the facts showed that night.

When the fire was knocked down the Chief Engineer (John Gerard) arrived and we looked at the apparatus.  That night Truck 102 was a relief apparatus.  I can not recall if the ladder pipe was an "improvised" ladder pipe or one from their regular apparatus placed on the "relief" rig as we so often did in those days.  But it appeared that it did not fit the rungs properly.  The ladder strap that should have been placed to secure it to the ladder had been omitted and was found in the compartment at the turntable.  The safety strap that was used for the firefighter to secure himself to the top of the ladder had been positioned around the assembly and not the ladder and then snapped into only one of the two "D" rings on his coat.

When the ladder pipe assembly came undone from the rungs Brian was attached to the assembly and hose and not the ladder.  Since the hook was only through one "D" ring, when the hose reversed direction the force pealed the "D" ring and nylon strap from the turnout coat, thus causing Brian to fall to his death.

At that time, there was no policy to install a shut off butt at the bottom of the hose, leading up the aerial ladder, to quickly shut down the water supply in the event of such an emergency, as is done today.  That night the hose had to be traced back to the Engine on the corner supplying the water to Truck 102.

Robert J. MacMillan

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