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Proud of Pinel

Museum Info

Hollywood Museum

1355 N. Caheunga Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
(323) 464 - 2727
SAT 10a - 4p

Harbor Museum

638 Beacon Street
San Pedro, CA 90731
(323) 464 - 2727
SAT 10a - 3p

Off-hour tours available
by special request.

Proud of Pinel

A bit of video history Opening of FS 43
December typically signals the arrival of winter over fall, with holiday decorations, office parties, and a general feeling of good cheer. Even in Los Angeles, the weather changes, even if only slightly, and the evenings are cooler; the days shorter.

It was cool and quiet on December 4, 1984 as Los Angeles Police Officers Joe Ransfer and Robert Lopez patrolled in their car the area surrounding Los Angeles International Airport. As they drove past the southern runways at about 4:50AM, they were stunned to see flames punching through the roof of The Proud Bird restaurant. A radio call was made and OCD issued a structure fire assignment at 4:54AM (TF 95, TF5, E80, BC4).

First in units realized they had a working fire and the initial "size-up" resulted in additional units being called. Within minutes 23 companies and Deputy Chief Don Anthony were either on scene or en route, including Engine 54.

The fire was stubborn, having actually been started by thieves just after midnight - it had a nearly five hour head-start and had pushed its way from the main floor of the restaurant into the huge 130 by 175 foot attic of the facility. The unique construction of the building also made the attack difficult. The roof contained a maze of construction beams, supports and other elements that diluted the traditional venting operations of firefighters on the roof.

As an interior attack continued, the crew of Engine 54, including Captain Jim N. DiGrado, Firefighters Walter T. Barnett and Benjamin Pinel were working an inch-and-a-half line through the ballroom. Engine 66 was engaged in a similar effort. Suddenly, without warning, a tremendous flashover occurred, pushing firefighters back due to the extreme heat and fire. Engine 66 and 54 retreated to the street, only to discover that Firefighter Pinel was missing.

Benjamin Pinel

Michael and Benjamin (Right) Pinel At Graduation 1983

Firefighters re-entered the building in search of Pinel, including Firefighter Johnny Garcia of Truck 64. Garcia followed the hoseline from 54s to the nozzle, but couldn't find Pinel. As he peered though the dark, murky smoke, he heard the low-air warning from Pinel's breathing apparatus, plus the personal alarm device (PAL) on Pinel's turnout coat.

Garcia was forced to abandon the building for a fresh air bottle, but immediately returned to continue his search. Now, only the tone from Pinel's PAL device could be heard, but Pinel himself was not to be found. As his air ran low, Garcia, now exhausted, exited the building for a third air bottle and a third attempt to find the missing firefighter.

As Garcia and others searched, the fire in the attic continued to escalate. Firefighting and search and rescue operations were ongoing and after awhile, Pinel was found, about 75 feet from the nozzle of his line. He had apparently attempted to exit in a wrong direction and became disoriented. He did not survive and heat and smoke in the ballroom.

Benjamin Pinel left a wife and six-month old daughter behind, and a brother who was also a firefighter, Michael, then stationed at Task Force 66. Garcia was awarded the medal of valor for his efforts. Arson investigators later arrested Jose Jesus Davilla related to the arson fire at the restaurant, but he was not convicted, due to a lack of hard evidence. He was deported to Mexico, having been in the US illegally.

Today, 21 years later. all Los Angeles firefighters remember Pinel, Garcia, and the Proud Bird. The name of Pinel is inscribed on the wall of the new Firefighter Memorial in Hollywood, just outside Old Fire Station 27. If you ask anyone who hears about this story, they're likely to tell you Pinel was a hero. If you ask a firefighter, they're more likely to say, "it's just another part of the job."

3 Comments

I am the nephew of Benjamin Pinel and was just a baby when he passed away and have not been in contact with my uncle Michael or Mario Pinel for over 20 years, but would like to make contact if possible.

January 31st, 2009 // By christopher pinel

My grandpa is pros pinel. i see michael and mario every once and a while at my grandparents. i see carol and nicole every once in a while tooand theya re doing great..

February 19th, 2009 // By Kiah

I remember that night so vividly. I am Johnny Garcia's wife, and he still can't talk about it much. Benjamin was a wonderful guy, according to my husband, and his name or even thinking about his name brings tears to my eyes even today.

November 7th, 2013 // By Stephanie Garcia

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