Fire Station No. 1 remembers
By Nicole Szuic
Herald Examiner staff writer
There was rock music drifting out of Fire Station No. 1
in Lincoln Heights yesterday, but none of the firemen inside
felt much like listening.
Outside Old Glory was flying at half-staff for Fire
Fighter-II Frank Hotchkin, who died in a blaze at the Marine
and Naval Reserve Training Center Saturday.
"I don't think any structure is so worth saving
that it's worth someone's life." said Gary Mellinger, 29,
who was on the roof of the building with Hotchkin when it
"All of us who were out there with him have a
great feeling of guilt, and wonder what we could have done to
keep it from happening." Mellinger said.
Although none of the other firemen saw it happen,
Hotchkin, 24, fell through a burning roof into a concrete
inferno where the heat was estimated at 1,500 degrees.
Mellinger's handwritten report described the roof as
having been intact just seconds before Hotchkin was discovered
According to Mellinger, Hotchkin had gone to get a pike
pole when he realized it was needed to punch a hole in the
roof. "No one ordered him to do it, he just elected
himself," he recalled.
Hotchkin then retuned with the pole and began walking across
the roof. It was the last time anyone saw him alive.
"It feels like someone cut off your leg when something
like this happens." Mellinger said, pausing and biting
his lip. "I can only equate it with your spouse or one of
your children dying, especially someone as young as Frank
Hotchkin grew up in the Van Nuys area and graduated
from Gant High School in 1974. He attended Valley
Community College in preparation for fire service.
He married his high school sweetheart, June Marie, in
1977, and his friends said he had been excited about a
remodeling project he had started on his Newbury Park home not
According to Capt. Harold Burkhart at Station No. 1,
Hotchkin received very high marks at the L.A. City Fire
Department Training Academy, which he attended in March and
April of 1977.
Hotchkin served his probationary period at Stations 39
and 83 in the Sherman Oaks-Van Nuys area, and finished his
training at Station 88, also in Sherman Oaks, where he spent 2
1/2 years. Then before going to Station 1, where he had
been since last August, he spent a month at Station 12 on
Those who knew and worked with him described him in
more than the predictable glowing terms.
"Franks' death is far more than a tragedy,"
said Capt. Russ Wenk, at Station 88, who was Hotchkin's
immediate superior during the time Hotchkin was assigned
"He was one of those rare individuals who could do
any job, any time," Wenk said. "He just cared
so much about people. That's what his death was
about--he always wanted to do that little bit extra."
"Frank was a very aggressive firefighter,"
said Mellinger. His loyalty to his job was more than I
could ever expect from myself. He was just a gung-ho
Burkhart, who had not been on duty Satruday, learned of
Hotchkin's death on the 11 p.m. news.
"I couldn't sleep all night you just never expect
it happen to anyone close to you.