Heights recognizes six lost firefighters
By Naomi Osuna
La Habra Journal
Family and friends of La Habra Heights Fire Department gathered together on January 7 for a Memorial Dedication Ceremony to honor the lost lives of six firefighters.
On September 2, 1955, in the area that would later become La Habra Heights, six brave firefighters paid the ultimate price to protect the safety of others during the “Hacienda Fire”. The La Habra Heights and Los Angeles County Fire Departments dedicated a monument and plaque to these six firefighters.
La Habra Heights Mayor Kyle Miller, explained that what prompted him, and many other people to hold this memorial originally started with LHH Fire Chief Graft.
The Fire Chief, through some wild fire training programs, learned of this incident and brought it to the attention of the council and the mayor.
“We were all in it from the beginning,” Miller explained. “Our rule was to really support what he wanted to do.”
Miller went on to explain, “you always want to support public safety officers, particularly La Habra Heights because it is such a fire danger.”
The granite monument was donated, with an engraving describing the details of the fire and named Captain Glenn Rockey, and his five young crew members: Franklyn Fay, Terry Kelly, La Verne Pendergast, Gregory Sambrano and William Strack, all of whom were 16 or 17 years old.
Miller said that it took a lot of people, including many from the fire department, who donated their time, to bring the memorial to life. The foundation for the monument was dug up by firefighters who volunteered their time.
“When you’re doing the right thing, for the right reason, a lot of people are happy to help,” he said.
Miller added that he thought that it will serve as a constant reminder that fires can happen at any time, and you can never be over prepared.
“I hope it will affect the community in knowing that they will have an example of something tragic happening and do all that they can to prevent it,” he said.
Graft explained he wanted the community to be aware of the sacrifices that were made by the firemen and to use it as a teaching tool for the young firefighters.
Graft expressed his gratitude that the community is aware of this tragic event and grateful that their young firefighters have been able to reflect on what transpired years ago.
Retired fireman and current La Habra Heights Council Member Roy Francis explained that the community has changed over the 60 years since the Hacienda Fire. But feels that the residents should know about the events that took place to help maintain their community as it is.
“I’m hoping that when this gets out people will realize that this really did happen, and this happens all the time,” he said. “This will make everyone aware that these are some things that shouldn’t be taken lightly, any kind of fire, and we all learn from these things.”
A Hacienda Fire History
The Hacienda Fire that claimed the lives of six firefighters in what is now La Habra Heights, caused many changes in the way firefighting is done.
The 1,150-acre fire on September 2, 1955, caused a back blast fire.
Captain Glenn Rockey of Los Angeles County Fire Department Engine 4 went in to rescue the five juvenile members of Los Angeles County Probation Forestry Camp Crew 5-1.
Rockey and the five teens succumbed to burn injuries.
Seven others were severely injured in the fire.
As a result of the deaths and the deaths on the Canyon Fire or Canyon Inn Fire in 1968, the Los Angeles County Fire Department discontinued the practice of using juveniles to fight fire.
The Hacienda Fire, which burned in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, ranks as the thirteenth deadliest fire by Cal Fire.
The fire has been studied and new fire fighting methods were put in place for better containment methods and to help ensure greater safety to fire fighters.