Chief Engineer Donald O. Manning—LAFD ICON

June 30, 2020

LOVE THEM, HATE THEM, RESPECT THEM OR NOT, the following members featured in this column and future ones, through their leadership and personal skills, have influenced the Department in an impactful way that has shaped the LAFD of today. They may look at themselves as just another firefighter, doing the job they were hired to do—We, however, recognize them as ICONS OF THE LAFD.

Donald O. Manning was born January 22, 1932 in Los Angeles, California. Raised by his parents, Eugene and Octavia Manning, Donald O. spent the first five years of his youth in his parents’ home near 54th and Denker Ave in Los Angeles. After a period of time, the family would soon move into the suburbs of Eagle Rock where Donald would attend the high school of the same name. As like many youths of the era, he spent most of his spare time working, delivering newspapers for the Herald Examiner and Los Angeles Times. When he wasn’t delivering papers, he enjoyed riding his pet donkey down the streets of LA or playing high school football. He was also on the gymnastic team, competing in rope climbing and rings. In his later years of high school, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve, training at the facility that is now called the Frank Hodgkin’s Memorial Training Center.

In 1950, he joined the U.S. Air Force where he honorably served four years. This was an important part of his life, as he would meet and eventually marry his wife, Rose. Both were very young and adventurous. Donald would hitch hike many miles on the weekend to visit her on his leaves. In 1952, after a short courtship, the two married and Rose joined him on base at WARNER-ROBINS AFB in Georgia. Eventually, the two would be transferred to Spokane, Washington where Donald would be honorably discharged after the end of the Korean War. After the war, the couple would move back to Los Angeles where Donald went to work in the commercial airline business, converting military airplanes for commercial use.

“The First Interstate and Central Library fire
showed the quality and courage
of the personnel of the LAFD.
The men and women of the LAFD were and are
exemplary in every way. I was and am very proud
to have been their Chief Engineer.”

Like many of us, Chief Manning’s road to the fire service was an interesting accident. At the time, Donald wanted to be a member of the LAPD. Unfortunately, he had a deviated septum and was rejected by the LAPD. Donald’s brother eventually persuaded him to lean towards the fire service. Never stepping foot into a fire station before, he would apply and take the written exam. The day of the written exam, however, he lost his entrance exam card. Searching all over, he eventually found it in the incinerator of his house, thankfully unburned. Donald O. Manning joined the LAFD on December 19, 1955.

Donald’s first probationary assignment was at fire station 7, at the time located on S.Main Street in downtown Los Angeles. His other stations during probation were Fire Stations 23 and 28, also located in downtown during this period of time. After probation, Donald put in a request to return to FS 23 and was assigned to Squad 23, nicknamed “The Green Hornets.” The Department was still developing itself into a modern entity during these years. Squad 23 was one of the few crews that carried a crude version of our breathing apparatus. During his times at FS 23, he was involved in a fire at a refrigeration building located near 6th Street and Santa Fe. One day, some routine maintenance was being conducted within the building when workers accidentally caught some cork insulation on fire that soon got out of control. Arriving on scene, Manning and a partner went inside and took over for the first in companies. Soon though, his partner was overwhelmed by the toxic environment and handed the hose to Manning and exited. Now backed up by other members, Manning continued to battle the flames but would soon fall victim to the same poisonous gases like his partner. Making his way out of the fire, he made it to the landing of the fire and went unconscious. The next thing he remembered was looking down at his own body lying on a loading dock, with members of the department working on him. He heard the guy from rescue ambulance 3 say he was dead. Manning began calling out, “I’m not dead. I’m not dead.” He tried to move his body but couldn’t. Out of desperation, one of the medics tried a treatment of carbon dioxide and oxygen, a gaseous mixture known as Carbogen. Manning would wake up in the back of the rescue ambulance on the way to the hospital stunned, but no worse for the wear.

During his career, Chief Manning had many challenges. One situation, however, was out of his control. It occurred during the 1992 LA riots, in which both of his sons, Terry and Tim were involved. Tim was the first IC at the beginning of the riots, and Terry, was out in the field as a Battalion Chief assigned to Battalion 13. During one particular incident, a crowd attacked the sedan carrying Terry. The crowds used axes and heavy metal bars to batter the roof of the sedan and many bottles were thrown, striking and breaking the windshield. During all of this, Chief Donald O Manning was listening to the radio, hearing all of this occurring. Fearing for his son’s safety, he continued to listen as his son spoke on the radio, calm as day, reporting to OCD not to send any companies into the area due to the violence occurring. He couldn’t have been prouder of his son’s actions at that time. It wasn’t until the Highway Patrol stepped up and sent help that the Fire Department members would be able to operate safely, a fact that Chief Manning never forgot.

The Chief had many more challenges during his career. One was the loss of FF Benjamin Pinel at the Proud Bird Restaurant Fire located near LAX. The Chief would recall it as his worst day on the job. Luckily, Manning had great days as well. Though still tragic for the loss of life, the events at the First Interstate Fire (one civilian loss), and the Los Angeles Central Library Fire showed the training and leadership of the LAFD was World-Class. Manning would later speak of the bravery of all the firefighters and chief officers involved by saying “the First Interstate and Central Library fire showed the quality and courage of the personnel of the LAFD. The men and women of the LAFD were and are exemplary in every way. I was and am very proud to have been their Chief Engineer.” All these large incidents tested his leadership and resolve. Through it all, however, Chief Manning took the lessons learned and applied them to make a safer Department for future generations.

During his administrations, many changes occurred that still affect our department today. Some of the biggest were the implementations of merging our EMS and fire July 2020 • 11 service together. This meant training and a total reorganization of both fire suppression personnel and ambulance personnel reassigned to the LAFD from Central Receiving Hospital. The plan had to be approved by the LAFD Commission, the City Council, and the Mayor. A plan was developed that cross trained EMTs and firefighters, as well as training personnel as paramedics and EMTs to be firefighters. The plan became a model for other fire departments.

Another challenge was recruiting females to become firefighters. Chief Manning mandated that the standard and minimum requirements to complete the drill tower and work on fire companies would be the same for male and female. This also required the Fire Commissions, as well as the Mayor’s approval. This was a huge undertaking and Chief Tom Curry was a major factor in its success. The first women firefighter joined the Department in 1983. Today there are many active woman firefighters in the City of LA. Another standard set by the Chief still in practice today is the Three-Whole Score Interview Process. This process for promotion was born during his administration, allowing equality for all members to promote. He was also instrumental in the development and deployment of what would eventually lead to the standards set for deployment of smoke alarms and residential water sprinkler systems in homes today. Though doing chores around the house are his main challenges these days, retired Chief Engineer Donald O. Manning remains the same kind and thoughtful man that led this Department for many years. For what he has done for the Department, and for the man he continues to be today, we would like to recognize Chief Engineer Donald O Manning as a LAFD Icon. A man, a leader, a true OFFICER AND GENTLEMEN.


Donald O. Manning

DATE OF HIRE: December 19, 1955
PROMOTED TO CAPTAIN (T28) October 1967

Comments are closed.

Back to Top