Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive





Fire Breaks out in Oil Plant and Colored Man Does Not Wait for Orders, but Rushes Chemical Machine to Scene and by Rapid Work Succeeds in Checking Blaze.


   A meek and lowly fireman, B. F. Anderson, a negro, "carried message to Garcia" yesterday, and his timely work prevented the destruction by fire of the thickly-settled residence district about First and Union avenue on one of the Westlake hills.

    Acting without orders and without waiting for an alarm, Anderson hitched a team of horses to a chemical engine and drove the otherwise unmanned machine to the scene of fire, leaving the horses in charge of a boy and fighting the flames all alone until help arrived.

    Late yesterday afternoon the gas which heats the oil furnace on one of the wells of the Off Crude Oil Company at Union avenue and First street suddenly sent out a puff of flame.  The long grass, dry as tinder, which grew at the edge of a big sump hole, ignited with the rapidity of an electric spark.


    Within a few minutes columns of dense black smoke were rolling mountain high and the flames were leaping up to a great height.

    All the firemen of chemical engine No. 1, on Loma Drive, were away at supper, except Anderson.  As he sat in the shade in front of the engine house he saw the big columns of smoke coming out of the hills.  He might have waited for an alarm to be turned in, or rushed around like an agitated chicken to call the other firemen.

    Anderson acted quickly.  He ran into the firehouse and released the horses from their stalls.  Then he snapped the harness in place and leaped into the driver's seat as the team rushed out.


    He had three or four blocks of his solitary run.  When he got to the fire the flames were raging amid a number of big oil tanks.  Hundreds of barrels of oil are stored there in a small space.  But for Anderson's quick work the barrels would have caught fire within a few minutes.   Near by are many residence and these were in danger if destruction.

    When Anderson arrived the amateur fire fighters of the neighborhood had retreated.  It was up to the lone colored man to check the flames.

        Yelling to a young man standing near to hold the horses, Anderson made a dive off the driver's seat, seized one of the chemical tanks on the engine and sent the fluid dashing into the fire.


    Miles away, the wondering city saw the smoke clouds grow a little paler and diminish.  Anderson ran back, snatched up the other tank and went into the fire again.  Then with a cry of despair, he threw it down.  Some fool had blundered.  The chemical tank was not properly filled and would not work.

    While he looked around for something else to renew his fight with, the familiar rumble and clatter of hoofs came to his ears;  the other engines were coming.  Heavy streams of water made short work of the fire which died away in a few minutes.  It was Anderson, however, and his rapid work that had held back the flames from the tanks.


    Anderson did not make any of the coy and maidenly speeches usually attributed to heroes about doing "just what he considered his duty."  Neither did he seem to recognize the fact that he had done something of high merit.  His spare time, as he coiled up the hose, was occupied in calling down maledictions on the fellow who didn't fill the starboard chemical tank.

    When there is promoting of men to be done in the fire department, it ought to be remembered that a colored man named Anderson didn't wait for alarms, orders or help, but worked quickly like a hero and stayed the flames that menaced a thickly populated residence district.


The Los Angeles Times, June 18, 1906





Ben Anderson was born in Austin, Texas, on June 23, 1884.  His father was Revered Chester H. Anderson, the 2nd pastor of Second Baptist Church (when it was located in the 700 block of South Maple Avenue), and the founder of New Hope Baptist Church.  His mother was Felice Anderson.

Ben joined the Los Angeles City Fire Department on April 2, 1904, and although he served only 3  1/2 years before being retired on a disability pension, his service was active and outstanding.

On June 13, 1906, Ben Anderson singlehandedly hitched a team of horses to a chemical wagon and extinguished a roaring blaze in a crude oil plant at Union Avenue and 1st Street.  The area was thickly populated, and Mayor Synder presented Anderson with a symbolic $5 gold piece in recognition of his heroic deed.

Andersons' disability resulted from his being thrown from his rig when the wagon hit a rut on the way to an alarm.  He suffered an eye injury and was granted a disability pension on December 1, 1907.

Andersons' death in November of 1918 exposed a flaw in the pension system.  There was no provision for the widow nor for the children after his death.  Attorney Paul M. Nash tried, unsuccessfully, to get a pension for Bens' wife, Rosetta Rosenfield Anderson, and the children.  The defect was corrected shortly thereafter, for those who followed, but not in time for the Anderson Family.  Rosetta was forced into domestic work to provide for their three children, Benjamin, Jr., aged 12, Chester, aged 10, and Felice, aged 3.

At the time of Ben's funeral the flu epidemic was so bad that the crowd was limited in number, with no one under 13 years of age allowed to attend, and no flowers nor singing was permitted.

Ben had attended 1st Street School, at Evergreen & New Jersey in Boyle Heights.  He later purchased a lot on Savannah Street, moved a house onto the lot and built another one.

Felice Anderson Mason , the youngest of Bens' children, is the only surviving member of the immediate family.


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