LA riots anniversary: firefighters recall dangers


The mobs kept the Los Angeles Fire Department from doing what they were trained to do.

"On that day, we were like the enemy, where they didn't want us to put the fires out," said LAFD Capt. Paul Seborn.

As a result, they couldn't really fight the fires. They had to stay back away from the buildings. LAFD Capt. Scott Miller was shot in the cheek and lost the dexterity in one hand.

"The bullet traveled along my jaw and went into my neck, severed the carotid artery and lodged midline in my throat. At that point, I suffered a stroke and went face first onto the steering wheel," Miller said.

Seborn and his crew found their first stop at the intersection of Manchester and Vermont avenues in flames, and they had to let it burn.

"There was a mob of about 100 people coming toward us, and as we pulled down the street to try and set up for the fire attack, we took some shots, and we got a gunshot into the side of my door," Seborn said.

It was the first time in the firefighters' careers that they'd been made targets, and they were forced to wear ballistic vests. They couldn't do what they'd signed up for - fighting the fires and protecting the neighborhoods.

Only a few firefighters at the time got bulletproof vests. Now, they are issued to everyone in the department. The riots were a dangerous and scary time for them.

"The battalion chief was in front of me, and I saw a flash off to the right ... I saw his window blow out, and he fell over. It was a shotgun that had taken out his window," said LAFD Battalion Chief Dennis Waters. "Luckily it was a shotgun and not a rifle or a pistol."

The chief took pellets in his face. But it was not only dangerous for them, it was dangerous for the people they were trying to protect.

Eventually, they had armed guards and were able to spend more time trying to put out the fires that threatened people and neighborhoods. But as one firefighter says, that wasn't the way they liked to do it.

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