Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

From the office of
          the Chief Engineer . . . . .


January 30, 1981



As members of the Fire Department family, we are all saddened by the tragic loss of our fellow, fallen member, Apparatus Operator Tom Taylor, on the morning of January 28, 1981.  The bond of brotherly concern, which we bear for one another, was graphically illustrated by the rescue attempts of fellow Firefighters at the scene of the incident.  As you know, several of the rescuers were injured, the direct result of extending well beyond the limits of human endurance.  In our present state of sorrow we are, nonetheless, thankful that the remainder of the ventilation crew on that, now proven, treacherous roof escaped the fate of Tom and God willing, will soon all be back on full duty.

The attached "Open Letter to the Press" describes an illustrative series of events which occurred on the above morning and I felt it appropriate to share with you.  As you know, the Department experiences continuing obstacles in presenting "our case" to the public, particularly through the media.  Moreover, the media generally has a tenacity towards events of proven audience interest or entertainment which may not reflect what we perceive to be in the best interests of the Department or the citizens we serve.

A News Conference was held in the Administrative Office of the Department on the afternoon of January 28, 1981, to update the media on latest information relative to the fatal fire.  All major services were represented from the radio, television and newspaper industry.  At the commencement of the meeting I read the attached letter to those in attendance.  As you will note, the message is an appeal for the long overdue recognition of the services you and I provide on a daily basis, all too often at the expense of our very lives.

After reading the letter, I ask each of you to reflect on how much of the message you received through the various media.  I submit, you no doubt heard very little.  This breach, in media coverage, has been of vital concern to me for many years as I know it is to you.

There is no short-term solution to this information shortfall.  However, be knowledgeable that those of us who comprise the Administration of the Department are working diligently to overcome this serious obstacle.  I solicit your full support, understanding, and patience in this vitally important effort.


Chief Engineer and General Manager

JCG:GLJ : eg



This morning at about 4 o'clock my telephone rang, it was Bob MacMillan, the on-duty Communications Chief, notifying me of a major emergency fire in North Hollywood.  I thanked him and thought for a moment about the building along Lankershim Boulevard.  Before I cold lay back on the pillow the telephone rang again.  This time Chief MacMillan advised me that the roof of the fire building had collapsed and possibly injured four firefighters.  I advised him I would respond after the Deputy Chief was on the scene.  I turned on my Fire Department radio and monitored the fire ground activity.  Within minutes Chief MacMillan was on the telephone again with sickening information that Apparatus Operator Thomas Taylor had been on the roof with other  members of his company when the roof caved in.  They could not locate him and he was presumed to be inside the fire building under the rubble. I immediately responded to the scene.  On the way, KNX and KFWB Radio Stations both carried news items about the fire.  As I reached Lankershim and Wellington, it was still dark and raining heavily.  Water was running six to eight inches deep in the gutter.  It was cold and windy.  The Command Post had been set-up in the partial protection of a theater marquee across the street from the fire.  Mr. Ezy Burts

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from the Mayor's office was there along side Al Schultz, the Deputy Chief in charge.  Chief Schultz advised me of all the particulars known to him at the time.  We reviewed the fire fighting procedure and the events that lead to the unfortunate circumstances. We discussed the details of the inevitable investigation.  I reaffirmed the procedures for notifying the next of kin.  In addition to his wife and children Apparatus Operator Taylor was survived by his father, Captain George Taylor and his brother, Firefighter Jeff Taylor, both of whom are active members of the Los Angeles Fire Department.  Tom's mother also needed to be notified.
I was satisfied at that point that we were doing everything possible and it was then that I noticed how alone we were on Lankershim Boulevard.  The Fire Department seemed to own North Hollywood.  The question that raged through my mind as I looked around was "Where is the Press?"  Press notification was accomplished at 3:41 a.m., and it was not after 6 o'clock in the morning.  In this City there are nine T.V. stations, 10 radio stations, 11 daily and 40 weekly newspapers being serviced by 2,000 people carrying press passes presumably on the pretext of reporting what is happening.  With all of those resources, only two radio stations reporters and one T.V. cameraman covered the story of a community hero who gave his life in the performance of his duty.

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I wondered how many news teams should cover a story where any human being suffers a violent death, two others are hospitalized and six more are injured as a result of the same violence.  A/O Taylor gave his life protecting the people and property of Los Angeles as did eight other injured firefighters. They care.  They demonstrated their caring by making the ultimate sacrifice.  And they are asking, in fact the entire fire Department is asking.  "Does anyone else care?"  Needless to say, the citizens cannot be expected to care if they are uninformed.  It is a cherished responsibility of the Press to assure a thoroughly informed citizenry through complete and objective news reporting.

The people of Los Angeles have become accustomed to the protection of a truly great Fire Department but this Department is laboring under the severe burdens of insufficient manpower, inadequate budgets, and the parsimonious attitudes of some politicians.  We depend on the Press to cover and report on the dedication, hard work, and sacrifices made by the firefighters in this City.  Without strong community support, the firefighters of Los Angeles will question the value of the sacrifices they make.  We must have thorough and objective press coverage to maintain strong community support and thus effective Fire Department.

The future of this City is in you hands.


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