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Locked Doors, No Smoke Alarms Factor in Los Angeles Blaze

Tuesday, December 26, 2006 |

On Tuesday, December 26, 2006 at 4:42 AM, six Companies of Los Angeles Firefighters, ten LAFD Rescue Ambulances, five Arson Units, one EMS Battalion Captain, one Battalion Chief Officer Command Team and one Division Chief Officer Command Team, a total of 60 Los Angeles Fire Department personnel under the direction of Battalion Chief Jack Wise, responded to a Structure Fire with Civilian Injuries at 2037 West 41st Street in Leimert Park.

Firefighters arrived quickly to discover heavy fire showing from a one-story 1,060 square-foot single family home, with reports of possible trapped or missing persons.

First arriving Firefighters commenced forcible entry to gain access to the property and the secured residence as their colleagues came to the immediate aid of a 9 year-old girl who had leapt from a front window with severe burns to both arms.

Upon entering the smoke charged residence on their hands and knees with flames rolling over their heads, Firefighters systematically searched the premises to find and rescue a pair of burned unconscious senior adults and a burned non-breathing 10 year-old girl from a bedroom at the rear of the home.

Their decisive action, combined with the advanced life support efforts of LAFD Firefighter/Paramedics, restored the girls breathing and sustained the life of her grandparents during ambulance transport.

The pre-teen girls were taken to California Hospital Medical Center and the approximately 65 year-old woman to Brotman Medical Center with first degree burns to an arm. Her approximately 65 year-old husband with 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 50% of his body, was transported to Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center.

All were alive but in critical condition on hospital arrival.

According to witnesses, a total of thirteen related persons, several of whom were disabled and/or wheelchair dependent were permanent residents of the two-bedroom home and inside the building at the time of the fire.

Nine of the occupants were able to escape uninjured via one of two doors in the rear of the home that was not locked. It should be noted that the front door and one of the rear doors commonly used for egress were unusable at the time of the fire, as they had been secured by double-keyed deadbolts.

Los Angeles Fire Department Investigators could find no evidence of smoke alarms or a fire extinguishers within the residence, which was not equipped with residential fire sprinklers.

Investigators were later told that the smoke alarms, along with window security bars, had been purposely removed from the 85 year-old home during a yet-to-be completed remodeling effort.

The fire was confined to the structure of origin and extinguished in just 31 minutes. Firefighters then worked diligently for more than five hours to salvage family belongings, including unopened holiday gifts.

During overhaul of the fire, a 55 year-old female resident who had earlier escaped the flames unharmed, began experiencing chest discomfort. She was treated by LAFD Paramedics and transported to Brotman Medical Center in fair condition.

No Firefighter injuries were reported.

City of Los Angeles Crisis Response Team Volunteers responded promptly to work alongside Firefighters in providing on-scene intervention, emotional support and referrals to those impacted by the incident, while the American Red Cross addressed the many physical and placement needs of survivors.

Monetary loss from the fire is estimated at $250,000 ($200,00 structure & $50,000 contents). The home was all but destroyed.

The cause of this early morning blaze is attributed to an electric space heater placed too close to combustible furnishings in the living room, including an upholstered sofa. Though a natural Christmas tree was among the items that later fueled the fire, it was not a primary source of ignition.

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Submitted by Brian Humphrey, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department

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LAFD Member said...

This incident showed what the LAFD is all about "SAVING LIVES". It is a disappointment that our Community Liaison Office presented a less than satisfactory media interview regarding this incident. We should have told the media and the public what a great job the LAFD did. Reviving a 10 y/o in full arrest and rescuing two disabled, elderly citizens rates pretty high in my book. Chief Barry needs to look at the CLO's office and insure that the public is aware of our dedication to them as evidenced by our work at this incident

Thank you

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...

Dear LAFD Member,

Thanks for the note. We appreciate that you take time to read the blog, which is by-and-large, an unfunded and unstaffed labor of love that we share in our Department and its mission.

We agree that the Herculean effort of our Brothers and Sisters at the 41st Street fire highlighted the core competencies of the Los Angeles Fire Department, and gave at least four Liemert Park residents a fighting chance of survival in a situation that some might have considered hopeless.

More on that in a moment...

Please know that our leanly staffed PSO office (only one person on platoon duty and well more than 300 phone calls that day) did its level best to offer facts that allowed those we also proudly serve to come to a conclusion identical to yours.

Though we were beaming with pride in the brave efforts of our colleagues, our protocol is to push hard with verifiable facts and descriptives (i.e. "entering the smoke charged residence on their hands and knees with flames rolling over their heads"), and not come close to force-feeding folks something that might be miscontrued as embellishment.

Please know that doing so is tougher than it sounds, and all leads back to our desire to remain a credible and respected resource that you can remain proud of over time.

After all, though most folks on our Department treat us like the plague (i.e. "tell your friends in the media...), at the end of the day, we're proud to be family - even if they keep us in a dungeon! ;)

Yes, there are many times that I'd personally love to use the word "heroic", but I try to save such words for the truly exemplary acts that can be described in no other way, and often times at the cost of an injury or loss of life in seeking to serve or protect another.

Clearly no person read, heard or saw every interview our Department handled on this fire, and it does remain likely that what you saw printed or broadcast was suboptimal (or heavily edited?)

Despite our best efforts, sometimes it happens. That doesn't make it acceptable though, and so I'd really love for you to contact me with the specifics.

Not to worry, just like Paramedic tape review or Division evaluation, we're ready to take our lumps. :)

We hope however, that the interview(s) you mention met our standards of accuracy and credibility balanced with a tone of humility and pride. It's not always easy - especially in light of the information we have to work with at the moment, and the multitude of demands we face.

Why a strong emphasis on prevention following this particular fire?

In light of the fact that we have had four fire deaths, eight civilian injuries, four Firefighter injuries and nearly three million dollars in property loss this week alone in Los Angeles, we felt morally obligated to stress prevention, and only then the brave acts of our colleagues - something that I can assure you remains on the minds of many of the people I have talked with this week. Our Brothers and Sisters in the 3rd Battalion did good, and I can't see how anyone would sense otherwise.

Then again, I likely didn't see the interviews you mention.

While Ron and I at the PSO office (the incident split shifts) strived to tell the story in a descriptive, forthright and humble fashion, we do welcome your detailed suggestions for how we or the other persons in our Unit (Chief Cooper, Captain McKnight, Captain Bobadilla) might not merely meet your ideals in the future, but vastly exceed them.

While we can only be responsible for so much of what is printed or broadcast, I pledge to do my utmost with whatever you can provide in the way of examples or suggestions.

I'm aware of a pair of video interviews (1) (2), that we have on the blog, and will continue to search for others, as your concerns do indeed intrigue me.

Oh, and before I forget...

From the moment the fire was extinguished, we have been planning a press event to touch on many of issues you mention.

While it would have been great to have had it at 8 AM that morning... I'm not in charge.

I can tell you that the Mayor and Fire Chief have made time in their busy schedules to hold a press event at the site this Friday at noon, and I have (already) forwarded some very intense suggestions through channels in the hope that these leaders will express or touch upon the viewpoint that you and I share regarding this incident.

Since you are on the job, please call our office (or drop by for coffee) on any 'B' Shift, and I'll be happy to listen to whatever you have to say. Stay anonymous if you wish, but remember that the only way we're going to get better is if you step forward and share your thoughts.

Fraternally Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

Anonymous said...

TV reports of fires, and firefighters responding to car crashes, tend to look and sound alike... "early morning fire, everyone got out safely, people lost their pictures, fire doesn't appear to be suspicious. .. " or, "multi-vehicle crash, freeway shut down for hours..." I'm not criticizing any interviews of fire personnel... I'm describing a typical TV station-produced story. I appreciate the vividly written blog entries.

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...


Thanks for the note. Yes, the television has come to be seen solely by many as "the" media or "the" news, and often uses a formula or format that is consistent and predictable.

Then again, people say the latter about our blog, especially the boilerplate first paragraph. (Ah, there's a deeply rooted story as to why that remains, but we'll have to save that for another time.)

Please know that we are firmly committed to supporting and enhancing our work with traditional television, radio and print media, as well as embracing the many new offerings made possible in the digital age. Any suggestions you have will certainly be welcomed.

While I can't speak for your concerns about the info-tainment industry, I can say that Brian, Ron and I always appreciate candid feedback whenever you wish to offer it, including in regards to tragic stories such as these.

In the coming year, we hope to add more first person reports, quotes and soundbytes from our LAFD responders, as well to further our "CGM" (Citizen Generated Media) offerings such as photos and video into the blog.

We'll continue this topic in a later year-end thread, and for now wish to return our thoughts and prayers to the family so deeply devastated by this blaze.

Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...

Dear 'A Stranger',

Please know that (both) your comments were held briefly for moderation. We do this to avoid comment spam. We apologize for any inconvenience

We read your messages, but will not post them here in the interest of protecting those involved.

Please know that your friend can turn to pro-bono legal and other assistance resources through 2-1-1 Los Angeles. She can simply call 2-1-1 or (800) 339-6993 for live assistance and guidance at any hour.

I hope this information helps.

Kindly accept our best wishes for success at your endeavor.

Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department


Hi my name Is Shannon Collins and i am the 9 year old girl who jumped from the window that night effected my life forever in good way and bad the good is i met wonderful people, and i i live with my mom and sister who is doing very well but the bad is i lost my grandfather but i still am thankful for the firemen who saved my life so THANK YOU SO MUCH

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