Captain Steve Ruda was walking along the street, awed by the destruction that lay before him. The disastrous Sayre Fire
had blown through the Oakridge Mobile Home Park
just one week earlier, destroying more than 500 homes. Now, residents were finally allowed back in, if only temporarily, to sift through the remains of their homes, searching for anything that might be of value.
Ruda, a Captain II with the Los Angeles Fire Department
, has years of experience with wildfires, but this was different. “Entire blocks of homes were gone
,” he recalled. “It was extremely emotional for our firefighters, as they did everything they could to save these homes
Here and there, a gutted car sat in a driveway, the only remaining elements being scorched metal. The only identifiable remains for most homes were mailboxes that tilted at crazy angles next to the street.
Captain Ruda, the Task Force Commander for 27s, was working with his crew to help open safes for homeowners, who would then retrieve the few valuables inside not consumed by the heat and fire.
As Ruda walked along the street, he noticed an older woman, with several young women sifting through rubble, and when they saw him, they motioned for him to come over. As one of Ruda’s roles was to provide support to the homeowners, he strode directly over to them. “I don’t know for sure
,” said the older woman, “but this may be of interest to you
She offered the Captain a browned, rusted piece of metal. Ruda turned it over and over in his hand. There was a seal on the metal and at first glance, it looked like the seal of the City of Los Angeles
. And a word... Fireman. “This looks like an LAFD Firefighter’s badge. A very early one
,” Ruda said to the women. The older woman nodded and said, “that badge belonged to my father, George Damron
Flash back to 1935. The history books indicate it was a typical southern California Saturday morning on September 7th. Downtown bustled with the many activities of Los Angeles, including the hectic garment district, where clothing and other materials were manufactured. The Mission Painted Fabrics Company was just one of those businesses. A wide array of volatile chemicals were used in the manufacturing process, often in large tanks or vats, to waterproof the often painted fabrics. One of the vats was called, “a dipping tank,” and it was open so canvas or other fabrics could be dipped into it. The vat contained a combination of wax, petroleum oil, gasoline thinner, and paint pigment.
At approximately one quarter past ten o’clock in the morning, the owner of the business, Elliot Theobold and Superintendent, Gordon Gould, were standing near several of these tanks, when they noticed a “flash of fire” just off the ground near the open waterproofing vat. The canvas caught fire and within seconds the vapor in the room ignited, filling the structure with smoke and flames. Lucky to be only slightly burned by the flashover, Theobold rushed to his office and called the fire department. Outside, a passerby also witnessed the fire and pulled three different fire alarm boxes. The initial assignment included Engine Companies 2, 5, and 24. They were joined by Truck Companies 17 and 24, along with Salvage 24. Battalion 7 responded with acting B/C George Dyer.
First in was Engine 2. The crew, headed by Captain Lawrence W. Krumsiek laid several lines in front of the building. Other lines were laid around the two-story structure and entry was made at several locations, nearly simultaneously. Captain Krumsiek and Fireman George Damron entered the structure near the open dipping tank and opened their nozzle, putting water on the fire. Other hose lines were put into operation and within just a few minutes, the fire appeared to be knocked down.
The rapid addition of water from multiple hose lines not only covered the floor, but the open dipping tank’s chemicals had spilled and were swirling around the feet of Krumsiek and Damron. The chemicals in the tank had been pre-heated for their water-proofing purpose, and shortly after the main body of fire was extinguished, a boil over occurred, resulting in re-ignition of the fire and chemicals that were spilling from the tank. The fire enveloped and trapped both Krumsiek and Damron. They retreated and attempted to exit the building, but the floors were wet and slippery, and they both fell into the burning oils. Both men managed to get up, and they stumbled outside, "looking like human torches
," a newspaper account reported. Hose lines were immediately opened and the fire was extinguished, and firemen attended to their injured brothers.
Both men were transferred to the receiving hospital, but despite care, Captain Krumsiek died the next morning, September 8th. George Damron appeared to rally for a few days, but his body was unable to deal with the extent of his injuries and he also passed away, on September 13, 1935.
Standing among rubble of the Oakridge Mobile Home park 73 years later, Captain Ruda stood with a fallen fireman’s badge in his hand. And at that moment, he decided to do something about it. “The badge represents everything to a firefighter
,” he said. “We worked hard to earn it, and we continue to attend to our duties to maintain that honor. I couldn’t let this badge be forgotten
So, Ruda arranged for the badge to be encased in Lucite. He spoke with George Damron’s daughter Charlotte, who gave him the badge, and his two granddaughters, Pamela and Cheryl, about preserving the badge at the LAFD Museum and Memorial. They agreed.
On November 14, 2009, at 10AM, Fire Chief Millage Peaks presented a new honorary badge to Pamela and Cheryl, as a tribute to their grandfather, George Damron, and their late mother, Charlotte. He was appointed to the Los Angeles Fire Department on September 5, 1923. On September 7th, 1935, as a member of Engine 2, A-Platoon, he answered his last call. Engine 2, A-Platoon, and the entire Task Force 2 was on hand to assist the Fire Chief with the presentation. Following the presentation to the two sisters, they, in turn, presented their grandfather's preserved badge to the LAFD Historical Society.
For Ruda, the moment he found the badge represents the mystic and wonder of the job. “Not to sound too corny, but it was like a phoenix rising from the ashes
,” he said. “To find it the way we did, just shows how some things tend to find their way home
NOTE: You can see the badge at the LAFD Museum and Memorial in Hollywood. To learn more about LAFD Line of Duty Deaths, please visit LAFIRE.COM