On July 1, 1977, Task Force 102 was established and quickly earned a reputation for the excellence and the respect of the department, city wide. It soon became evident 102’s “first in” had no boundaries and would encompass the entire city via the many “move-ups, day or night” and many times both. (Of course, the numerous cut gallons of B&R to OCD didn’t hurt). Those move-ups provided 102’s the ability to experience firsthand areas of the city and the challenges faced by the companies normally assigned there. From residential, commercial, industrial, high rise, both airports, harbor, and brush – the knowledge gained was instrumental to 102’s members to further their career goals via promotions, and impart the same to new rookies assigned to TF-102. Thus it seemed only appropriate, the moniker “TF-102 Spearhead of the City” was born.
Shortly thereafter, a spray paint stencil was created by the A/O’s depicting the same logo. Its usage went into the overdrive whenever the opportunity arose. The “grand slam” occurred at the main shops on one particular Sunday. With stencil and creepers in hand, A/O “Chick” Mokracek and Laine Kemper started at opposite ends of the bays and scored. Via this clandestine operation, a Christmas card was designed, bearing the same logo and sent to every LAFD work location. Feedback was positive, minus one TFC @ 10’s. (I won’t mention his name due to his good reputation). Many past members of TF-102’s went on to promote and their names are too numerous to list. I will add, in my opinion, each one benefited by having served at 102’s.
Reflecting on my 26 years at the TF-102 (including LF-102) it was the highlight of 33 years on the department. How could it not? In the front office we had people like Buck Teel, Gary Peck, Doug Murphy, Ron Meador, Ray Horelly, Ray Case, Bruce Blackwell, Mike Burns, Wayne Boswell, John Nelson, and Ed Ortiz, just as an example.
In drafting this article, I spoke with Walt Wilmington Batt-14-A (ret). His recollection of TF-102 was one of respect and admiration, both on the fire ground and off. He mentioned, also, the level of morale was as high as he had ever witnessed. This can be attested to by the fact no one wanted to leave and the multitude of “brownies” on the file to transfer in.
Another retired chief, Jim O’ Neill, told me of his esteem for 102’s. One case in point was “The Normandie Fire.” As the I.C., when 102’s reported on scene, he directed the T.F. to go to the roof. With 102 ready, Capt Gary Peck noticed a woman halfway out a small window on the 5th floor screaming for help. Peck, knowing TF-29 was on the roof, told the I.C. and wanted to attempt a rescue. An aerial ladder wouldn’t work, so T-102 threw the “50” three feet short of the window.
Engineer Tom Brennan was first up, followed by FF Tom Kessler (27). Chief O’Neill related to me he couldn’t watch, and Capt. Peck thought, “Someone is possibly going to die.” Brennan, on the third rung from the top, got the woman out feet first. And basically did what most couldn’t without a tragic result. This action earned Tom Brennan the Medal of Valor. Other members of TF-102 would also be awarded that same medal for displays of heroism in the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake.
Not all of TF-102’s responses resulted in good outcomes. FF Brain Phillips, 102-B, lost his life battling an arson fire at Mullen Lumber in North Hollywood. Other incidents 102 was involved with were fires at which FF Lynn Hazlett (FS 39), A/O Tom Taylor (FS 60) and FF Frank Hotchkins (FS 1) made the ultimate sacrifice. All of these were sad times for the LAFD and fire departments everywhere.
After 102’s was once again a single engine, all three shifts combined their talents and resources and created a memorial to Brian Phillips in the station’s backyard, befitting a true American hero. If you haven’t seen it, stop by and pay respect to a “fireman’s” fireman.
On a lighter side, on one particular overhaul, in 88’s district, 102’s was left to clean up. We washed, dried and folded T-88’s salvage covers, and returned them, but not before a miniature 102’s logo was applied on a corner. TFC Brown, from 88’s, was irate and told Div-3. Verbal reprimands were issued to 102’s front office. Not quite happy, 102’s back room created a “Brown’s Crying Towel,” and forwarded to 88’s wrapped around a laughing box that was triggered to go off when the package was opened. At 88’s line up, Brown opened it and the box went off, and he looked at the towel. Not a word was said, and thereafter, there were no more comments from Capt Brown about 102’s.
Many of you, reading this, already know about TF-102’s legacy and everything that goes with it. So if I am being repetitive I apologize. Set-ups and pranks were part of the LAFD mindset. Games for dishes and cheating prevailed on the “C” shift as well. Bill Ward and Vince Cardinale got together and screwed TFC Ray Horelly at the game “99.” Ray’s retort – “You guys cheated, and I will find out!” He never did. All said and done, Ray had the cleanest cuticles on the F.D.
One classic was FF Denny Silgen @ FS-10 and his firecracker caper that went awry. He was then transferred to TF-102-A. Capt. Tom Frank was the dept. advocate. Down the road, after Denny settled in at 102’s, Capt. Frank worked a SOD @ 102’s. Being congenial – both agreed to a photo on the apron. (Check the banner and engine designation in the accompanying photo)
It is my hope that, anyone omitted, is not offended in anyway. I talked to many past alumni, both active and retired, to make this article as factual as possible.
A parting note: Engine 102 was pictured on the first color cover photo of the Grapevine, after a move-up to 9’s, and first in at a major hotel fire (fall of 1987). As I end, I wish my many thanks and appreciation to those I contacted and the deep emotions I have for those who served at the “Force That Was.”
Story by Mike Martin, LAFD retired
Photos by Rick McClure, Fritz Neuhaus, Vince Cardinale, and Charles Mokracek
Collaborating members: Gary Peck, Ron Meador and Lynn Spahr