Every fall as the lush green vegetation of spring dies out in Southern California, the hills covered by the ubiquitous chaparral bushes, seemingly erupt from the slightest ember or automobile backfire. Resources are marshaled as the fire department springs to action to fight the raging infernos, by day and night. During these times, LAPD officers serve in a supporting role as was the case most recently in the fall of 2008, in the northern San Fernando valley. Such was also the case in mid-November 1917, when a fire broke out in the area formerly known as Sawtelle, just north of today’s Los Angeles National Cemetery in West Los Angeles. It was there that Patrolman Ormiel E. Barney responded to help fight the fire and where he ultimately lost his life.
Patrolman Barney was born on June 17, 1879, in Trenton, Michigan, to George and Ida Barney. Ormiel was one of three children born to the couple. The senior Barney worked as a railroad conductor and it was this employment that brought the family to San Bernardino, California by 1900. At the time, Ormiel worked as a machinist but he briefly followed his father’s career choice and worked in the railroad industry. However, Ormiel would answer the call for public service, not once but twice.
In 1910, Ormiel Barney joined the Los Angeles Police Department where he and his wife Mana lived on Grand Avenue near 2nd Street. However, during the next five years, ill health struck Barney and he was forced to retire from the department on October 4, 1915. Eventually, Barney, his wife Mana and the couple’s daughter, moved to Arizona where Barney attempted to recuperate. The dry Arizona climate was apparently conducive towards good health as Barney made a full recovery and returned to Los Angeles in 1917.
Upon his return to Los Angeles, Barney found that police officers were still in high demand and he chose to take the civil service entrance exam. He passed and in October 1917, Ormiel E. Barney was reappointed to the Department. By then, the city of Los Angeles had annexed the area known as Sawtelle, which was located around Sepulveda and Pico Boulevard. Barney worked the Westgate beat and on November 21, 1917, he responded to fight a brush fire in the area of the Old Soldiers’ home, which is where today’s National Cemetery is situated.
Within a day, the brushfire was quelled. It was then that officials found Barney’s remains. Barney apparently was overcome fighting the flames and became the only Los Angeles Police officer ever to be killed in the line of duty as a result of fighting a fire. Ormiel E. Barney was survived by his wife Mana and daughter, Winifred. He was buried at Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery, located at 1831 West Washington Boulevard, Los Angeles, where his gravestone may be viewed on their website.
Lieutenant J. A. Macias, #27710, LAPD