25 years ago today, the LAFD lost one of it's best when Captain I Joseph C. Dupee was killed in the line-of-duty at a major emergency structure fire at 5972 S. Western Avenue.
Captain Dupee was assigned to Engine 57, which was involved in interior firefighting operations at the time of his death. The structure was 110 feet long and 59 feet wide with a conventional trussed arch roof. The business manufactured pet food products and the building was not sprinklered.
A first alarm assignment consisting of Task Force 66, Rescue 866, Engine 57, Engine 46, Light Force 33, Engine 34, and Battalion 13 (32 members), was dispatched to a reported structure fire at approximately 02:20 hours. Engine 33 added themselves to the assignment. Both Task Force 66 and Task Force 33 responded with their members. Task Force 66 was first on scene at approximately 02:22 hours and reported "...light smoke showing from a one story commercial building...". A ventilation team from Truck 66 went to the roof via a 35 foot extension ladder.
Forcible entry was initiated by the Inside member of Truck 66 through the front door of the building. Forcible entry required approximately 4 to 7 minutes to force open the security door and metal front door of the building.
While companies waited for the front door to be forced open, fire conditions changed dramatically on the roof. Truck 66's ventilation team initially found moderate smoke coming from ventilators. As the ventilation team approached the center of the roof, they observed fire coming form the vents. The ventilation team opened an initial hole, but was driven back by heavy fire and heat. Noting the change in conditions, the I.C. requested 2 additional task forces at approximately 02:26 hours.
Engine 66, followed by Engine 57, and Engine 46, advanced handlines through the front door (E-66, 1 3/4", E-57, 1 1/2", E-46, 1 3/4"). Three members of Engine 33 quickly followed with 10 foot pike poles. Approximately fifteen feet inside the front door, companies encountered heavy smoke conditions with near zero visibility. Advancing the handlines was made difficult due to considerable storage inside the manufacturing area. There was considerable concern about the mezzanine, which extended 6 to 13 feet from the office area.
Engine 57 turned right (South), once inside the manufacturing area, located a small amount of fire in the mezzanine area. However, they were unable to effectively reach the seat of the fire. Engine 66 and Engine 46 advanced their lines 30 to 40 feet inside the building but found no fire. Engine 57's Engineer stayed in the hall area and helped advance the hose line to his company. Conditions inside the building continued to deteriorate and once SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) alarms began to activate, companies independently began to withdraw. This was approximately 10 to 12 minutes after the first company entered the structure.
Engine 33 found the use of 10 foot pike poles to be ineffective. This, combined with the deteriorating conditions, prompted the Captain to order a retreat to the outside to obtain their own hose line. Due to zero visibility, they had to follow existing hose lines to find their way out. Once outside, they realized their Hydrant member had become separated, and had not made it out. The hydrant person form Engine 33, who had become disoriented and in fear for his life, activated his emergency trigger. Engine 33's Captain obtained a handi-light form Engine 57. The Captain, while low on air, re-entered the structure and found the missing member approximately fifteen feet inside the manufacture area. He led the member out to safety. The next company to exit were the three members of Engine 46, then the three members of Engine 66, and finally the two members form Engine 57. During this time, Captain Dupee became separated from his crew and remained inside the building. At approximately the same time, companies were ordered out of the structure and off the roof by the I.C.
Additional units were requested from OCD (now termed MFC for "Metro Fire Communications" dispatch center) as the fire grew. At approximately 02:37 hours, the company designate for command post support was diverted to Rapid Intervention as they arrived on scene. At approximately 02:38 hours, the Division II Commander arrived on scene, without a Staff Assistant, and assumed command. During this incident the command post experienced some significant communications problems., both human and technical. Communication on the command channel (channel 11), was negatively impacted between Chief Officers and the command post. Radio malfunction and limited Command Post staffing have been identified as factors in this incident. At approximately 02:47 hours, the on-call Deputy Department Commander arrived on scene.
As the fire continued to escalate, the command post and several companies on scene became convinced that a member form Engine 33 was missing.
This delayed the realization that Engine 57's Captain was also missing, which took several minutes to be resolved. Several members reported Captain Dupee communicated on the Tactical Channel. Further investigation is necessary to determine the nature of his communication. Captain Dupee did not activate the emergency trigger on his radio. A member from Engine 15 inadvertently activated his radio's emergency trigger at approximately 2:42 hours.
At approximately 2:57 hours, the I.C. notified O.C.D. of a RED ALERT condition (currently termed "Mayday").
At approximately 2:58 hours, Captain Dupee was found by the Rapid Intervention Company with his PAL devise (Now termed a PASS device "Personal Alert Safety System") sounding. The Rapid Intervention Company removed Captain Dupee through the rear of the building. Medical treatment including CPR was initiated and he was transported by Rescue Ambulance 66 to Daniel Freeman Hospital. Tragically, Captain Dupee was pronounced dead at the hospital.