January of 1981 turned out to be a very sad time for the LAFD and our extended family with the loss of Apparatus Operator Tom Taylor. It is hard to believe that was 32 years ago because the incident is still etched in the minds of those who were there, those who were on the job at the time, and of course the Taylor family. It was shortly after 3:30 a.m. when the members of FS 60 in North Hollywood were awakened by a person reporting a fire at Cugees restaurant at Lankershim and Weddington. OCD dispatched Task Forces 60 and 102, Engine 86, Squad 39 and Battalion 14.
Upon arrival firefighters encountered heavy smoke but little flame as Truck 60 raised the aerial to the roof and the engine laid lines to the fire. Access to the roof was complicated by the façade which extended well above it. A roof ladder was brought up so that the ventilation team could get down onto the roof. The roof seemed solid as the team proceeded, testing as they went to a point where Tom Taylor began opening up with a chain saw. Tom was starting his second cut when, at 3:46 a.m., the roof suddenly separated from the north wall and collapsed. Captain Mike Reagan and Firefighter Burton Sander made it through thick smoke to the roof ladder, climbed over the parapet and hung there as firefighters rushed to get a ladder to them. Battalion 14 Aide Ron Leydecker and Firefighter Tom Shrout from Engine 60 quickly climbed up the aerial ladder. Leydecker helped Firefighter Coleman Lawson onto the aerial, while Shrout reached for Taylor who had slid down the slope of the collapsed roof. Straddling the rail of the aerial ladder with his foot, Shrout reached down to grasp Taylor’s outstretched hand. Their hands touched several times, but neither man could get a sufficient grip for Shrout to pull Taylor out. Seconds later Taylor fell into the fire and was killed. Captain Reagan, his hands burned and his turnouts smoldering from the flames was forced to release his grip on the parapet and fell to the sidewalk. Firefighter Sander also fell and became entangled in the ladder being raised to save him. As they were being treated for their injuries, the south side of the restaurant façade fell outward sending bricks and debris onto the firefighters. Captain Reagan suffered burns to both hands and other injuries, Firefighter Sander a fractured left arm, Firefighter Lawson smoke inhalation, and Firefighter Garry Ingham of Squad 39 a fractured kneecap.
The tragic fire was an arson for fraud caused fire and a large number of LAFD Arson, and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) investigators worked together to solve the crime and arrest those who were found guilty of arson and homicide.
In January, 2008 a memorial plaque was placed on the building now on the site of the fire to honor the memory of Tom Taylor.
In Memory of The LAFD Members Who Were Killed in Past Wars
I was recently contacted by Bob Ashmore wanting to know more about his father’s brief career on the LAFD. James L. Ashmore joined the LAFD on 1/20/1942 and on 12/21/1942 he enlisted in the US Army. During his time on the job he was assigned to Fireboat #2 (The “Ralph J. Scott”). His son Bob wanted to obtain some 1942 era pictures of Boat 2 from the LAFDHS. James Ashmore went to boot camp for training after leaving the LAFD and was sent to the battle in Italy where he was killed in action.
A plaque dedicated on May 30, 1948 by the Firefighters American Legion Post 102 honoring those LAFD members who went into the military from World War I and World War II, and were killed in action is on display in the Hollywood Fire Museum.