In the Signal Tribune’s May 1 edition, we asked readers if they recognized Al, one of the many firemen who battled the blaze at the Hancock Oil Refinery in 1958. Long Beach resident Lloyd Colson, III wrote in, saying:
My boyhood friend sent me a copy of your Hancock Fire Remembered special edition [May 22, 2008]. Also, he previously emailed me a photo asking, in essence, “Does anyone know who these guys are?” I am Lloyd Colson, III, and am the son of the late Lloyd Colson, Jr. who was the fire chief of the Signal Hill Fire Department at the time of the Hancock fire. His father, my grandfather Lloyd Colson, Sr., served on the Signal Hill City Council back in the late 1940s and is listed on the memorial in front of City Hall. My family has lived in Signal Hill since the early 1920s. I lived there until my marriage in 1968. My mother Ada lived there until the mid-1980s. Most of my grandparents’ generation were residents until the day they died. However, none of them are buried in Signal Hill Cemetery.
My Dad had a collection of photos of the fire. While she was still living, our former neighbor and dear friend Joy Elliott took this collection of photos and, in the family name, donated them to the Signal Hill Historical Society. I trust that the Historical Society still has these photos. Perhaps they were included in your special edition.
Regarding the “Does anyone know…” photos, the man facing the camera was Tom Denham, father of Gilmore Denham, who was interviewed in your special edition. Gilmore was the chaplain officiant at my father’s funeral. “Al” was Al Fry. He was superstitious about having the word “Fry” on the back of his fire protection coat. Ergo, he used his first name.
The photo on page 8 of the special edition, the one of the elected officials and fire personnel, was probably taken in late 1969 or even early in 1970. The fire crew are L.A. County personnel, not the old Signal Hill personnel. As you well know, the chaos caused by the Hancock fire made it obvious that, as much as we liked having our own independent fire department, we needed to join with and have access to all of the resources of the L.A. County Fire Department. The woman in the photo is Nellie Combellek, who served on the Council for years. Her home was the one on the southeast corner of Lewis and 33rd Street.
My cousin Tom Walton still lives in Signal Hill, and on my visit to him last summer, I gave him several copies of photos of the Council when my grandfather was a member, and several photos of the fire department, taken in about 1948. I had the names of all of the individuals in the photos written on the back of each photo. Tom was supposed to give the photos to his neighbor, the mayor. But I do not know if he has done this yet or not.
If you have any other photos that you might like someone to try and identify the individuals, please feel free to email them to me and I will do my best to see if I can remember their names. It is only fair to tell you that I am at the age and stage in life where it is easier for me to remember the Pledge of Allegiance in Latin, from first period Latin class at Poly High, than it is to remember what I saw on the news last night. However, since we are looking at photos from the 1940s and 1950s, my memory will probably work just fine. Hell, I still think of the owner-publisher of the Tribune as Harvey Harris. In my childhood, he was always the arch-enemy when it came to political issues! Ha!!!
Thank you for the wonderful special edition. I truly enjoyed seeing and reading it. Also, I was able to share it with my son Lloyd, IV, who, needless to say, was born years after the events covered in this edition.