LAFD firefighter recounts explosion: ‘Death felt closer now’

Firefighter shares photo of members recovering from burn injuries sustained in May 16 mayday incident

By Janelle Foskett

A Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter who survived the May 16 mayday incident in which 12 members were injured has shared his story of what it was like inside the structure when the massive explosion occurred.

Firefighter Andrew Tom recounted his experience inside the one-story commercial structure, and shared a photo of five LAFD firefighters currently recovering from the burn injuries sustained in the incident.

Tom’s Instagram post describing the incident reads, in part:

“Just after dinner, 10 other firefighters and I were investigating a fire that had just emerged in downtown LA. We had entered the narrow hallway entrance in single-file fashion. I remember the hallway being tight an ominous. There was even a ladder obstructing our entry point. We pushed further into the building when the fire roared from the end and exploded toward us, screaming with heat and fury as we hit the ground to survive.

“I honestly thought it was the end. That 31 years was as far as I would reach. I remember giving up in there was the fire viciously kept on, pinning us to the floor. There was just so much heat. Heat you have never felt before. That no one has ever felt before. And though the exit was just a few paces away, the distance felt insurmountable. But then my body refused to surrender. I started panicking, crawling my way towards the sunlit doorway that I couldn’t see. I was struggling to get around that ladder with my fellow firefighters. Death felt closer now.

“Then I felt the sun fall on my face. I was outside. I made it. I turned towards the exit to see how many others were still trapped. I couldn’t feel the tears fall from my eyes to my cheeks, but I knew they were there as I watched the dark doorway gradually release another friend from its hold. I had never cried like that before.”

The African American Firefighters Museum posted the image on its Facebook page as well.


This brings joy to our hearts. Pictured here are some of the LAFD Firefighters who were involved in a horrific explosion...

Posted by African American Firefighter Museum on Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Tom wrote of the comradery among his brother firefighters: “It still pains me to think about that afternoon. I was unable to draw the courage to view all the photos, video and news coverage of the incident for a few days. The recovery ward helped. I spent a few days in there with four others that survived the blast. The comradery in surviving something like this is beyond anything I can describe in words. A lot of our moments together are in silence, yet you can feel the warmth of each other’s presence.”

Read Tom's full post here.

Note: The United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, IAFF Local 112, shares that donations to help the injured firefighters can be made to the UFLAC Fire Foundation website.

[Watch next: LAFD Chief Terrazas discusses the mayday incident]

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