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 Samuel Paul “Sam” Morrison

Samuel Paul “Sam” Morrison

Ogden, Weber County, Utah, USA
Death 5 Jun 1979 (aged 20)
Cupertino, Santa Clara County, California, USA
Burial Los Altos, Santa Clara County, California, USA
Plot Queen of Peace Section, Row 14, Grave 88
Memorial ID 99295852 · View Source
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Son/Brother/Firefighter/Athlete/Spirit filled.

Sam Morrison was born in Ogden Utah, and lived in a small white house with a big backyard on 5th Street. He shared the house with many brothers & sisters. At age 4, his family moved to San Jose (Cupertino) Ca. There he went to Hoover elementary school. At age 11, Sam joined the Boy Scout Troop 494, which he enjoyed. He went on many camping trips, including weeklong summer camp at Camp Hi-Sierra, and a couple of 50 Miler backpack trips. His father ‘Dick’ was the Scout Master for part of his time, and his brothers: Rich, Bob, Dan & Pete all became part of the troop.

In 1970, he went to John F. Kennedy Jr. High School. There he played “two years of football and soccer. In 1970, he entered Monta Vista High School. There he enjoyed “Bio-ecology, Metal shop, Wood Shop, Auto shop and reading”(a). For after school sports he played: one year of tennis, two years of soccer, and four years of tackle football. His other interests were guitar & listening to rock music.

For employment, he worked for a gas station, renting U-hauls and doing minor mech. work. Later, he also did part-time, home repairs and painting for a local Realtor.

In 1977, he entered De Anza College majoring in Biology. In 1978, he entered San Jose City College with a “major of Fire Science, and hoped to find employment in one of the many aspects of the Fire Service”(a). He also enjoyed: “soccer, hiking, mountain climbing, guitar and reading”(a).

His best friends were John Heyne and Jeff Kitts. All that knew him found him to be a strong, enthusiastic and sacrificial friend to all.

Sam was last employed as a wildland Firefighter by Stevens Creek Forest Fire Station. He died in his very first fire (see also newspaper articles in the photo section). The cause of death was “Heat Stroke”. He was only 20 years old.

The last couple years of his life Sam burned with a fire of love for Christ. He was a member of Ascension Parish Charismatic Prayer Group. During the last few weeks of his life, he had hints of leaving this earth. "He had dreams of leaving" (per his personal journal). This was certainly a preparation for an early return to God.

We thank the Lord for his life!

(Written by his brother: Robert Morrison)

(a) These excerpts come from his Fire Science Resume: Life History.


This month marks the 35th Anniversary of Sam’s passing from this life.
Here is an account, based on notes & reports, of Sam's First & Last Alarm.


Sam was employed by Stevens Creek Forest Fire Station, under Captains: Doeltz and Chester Knapp-Smith. He reported to his first fire on June 5th, at Saratoga Springs (Sanborn Fire No. 104). The Sanborn Fire fire was caused by a couple of ‘graduates’ juveniles playing in the woods with illegal ‘M80’ fireworks, also called ‘Cherry Bombs’.

Sam was very enthusiastic to be working in his chosen profession, and was said to have worked very hard to combat the fire, while carrying a back pump. At one point, a fellow Fire Fighter Valle noticed him lying down under some trees breathing very hard and holding a handkerchief over his mouth. Not long after this, “Engineer Pennel asked Fire Fighter (Sam) Morrison to help them. He recalls Fire Fighter Morrison looking directly at him but not responding to his direction.”(b) Sam was apparently becoming fatigued and disoriented. He was last seen replacing a broken hose, by his Fire Captain Knapp-Smith, at approx. 5:45pm (b). It wasn’t until 9:30pm “that Captain Knapp-Smith noticed that Fire Fighter Morrison was missing.” Sam had been missing for 4 hours, before anyone noticed it! “The sheriff’s office (Search & Rescue) was notified and Deputy Stadlbauer arrived at 11:00pm.”(b)

The Captain called Sam’s family’s house to see if he had gone home. I (Robert Morrison) decided to come to search for him. A friend & I arrived at 11 pm, but we were told we could not go into the burn site, because we would hamper the rescue efforts. The Fire Captain assured me that a helicopter would shortly be overhead looking for my brother. Discouraged, I returned home, and dropped off my friend off at his house. There seemed to be nothing fire personnel would let my family do. I returned at approx. 12:00 midnight, and found that all fire personnel, trucks, and the ‘rescue’ Deputy had left the area. Against orders, I decided to walk into the fire burn site to look for Sam.

I looked for him on the burn site, by flashlight all night, calling his name repeatively. Contrary to the Official Investigation Report, no helicopter was ever within earshot of the burn site that night. It was deadly silent all night. [Perhaps the helicopter had contractual problems similar to the air-tanker bombers fire retardant drop problems that was quoted in the newspaper, “we aren’t under contract yet to Hollister, “said Mannhalter.” That’s still a few days away.”(d)] The only person moving around on that hill that night was me. All his brother fire fighters “went to Sambos in Los Gatos for grub”(c) and then home to sleep. A later report statement by Lloyd Keeper stated, “Everybody felt he had left.”

Early in the morning I called home, and told my parents that the fire personnel had not searched at all that night (as the Fire Captain had promised me), and I asked them to send more family. My father and brothers arrived with a friend Jeff Kitts. A few Search and Rescue people arrived with a dog in the morning, about 8am. The dog was ‘working’ the burn site, but was not able to pick up Sam’s scent. A few other fire personnel arrived, but seemed more concerned with smoldering ‘hot spots’.

Jeff Kitts & I decided to work together to find him. I knew the site well, and he had fresh energy. We thought if he was sick, he might have headed to the creek, so we combed the area between the burn site and the creek. At about 9:00 am, Jeff found him and called out to me, I was there in a minute. He was dead! I called out to my family, and they arrived shortly. After a few minutes, I went to get the fire personnel. They carried him out. We were devastated. The date was 6-6 (1979).

Someone alerted the Media, for my mother heard the news that her son had died, via the radio, before the family was able to drive home.


The autopsy report said the cause of death was “Heat Stroke”, contributory: “Acute Pneunonitis, probably viral”. Sam was in very good shape; he played 4 years of high school football (a), he was well prepared physically for the task. He was not known to be sick the week prior, but may have been, and not shown it. (My mother & I, theorize that he got sick that day on the hill due to allergies of the burning grass and brush, which mimicked ‘pneumonia’.) [Both Sam and myself had allergies. Many years later, I inhaled greatly dispersed smoke particles from the Orange County, Laguna Hills (grass & brush) Fire, from about 10 miles down wind. I became sick with asthma for 3 months. Perhaps Sam had a more severe allergic reaction to the heavy smoke on his day.]

The Conclusion of the Fatality Investigation ‘Cause of death’ (b) was that Sam had died from being overeager to fight the fire, being predisposed ill, and having an elevated temperature. I believe some responsibility resides with his Fire Captain who was in charge of the novice fire fighter’s welfare on his first fire. . . No mention in the report summary was given to the Fire Captain’s responsibility “to keep the crew together and calm” during the fire (e). I believe an organization that refuses to look honestly at its past mistakes is likely to repeat its errors. Truth is important to correct future tragedies.

[Interestingly, Sam’s Fire Captain at this incident, “Franklin Chester Knapp-Smith, was killed the next summer . . . in San Jose (Santa Teresa Hills) CA, on August 11, 1980.”(f)]

His brother Fire Fighters left Sam on the hill that night, but they all came to his funeral.
One after another, the beautiful Fire Trucks rolled in. The Funeral Mass was beautiful. All seemed to have been thankful to have known Sam, even if it was for a short time. Sam’s fire burned brightly, and then was gone. The funeral Eulogy emphasized “there is no greater love, than to give your life for others”(g)

"THE LORD calls the boy SAMUEL . . . Here I am; you called me”:

His family believes that the Lord had prepared him to leave this life early. The last couple years of his life he had become a very enthusiastic Christian man. Shortly before he died, he recorded in his personal journal that he had “dreams of leaving”, but he left his future up to God.

We miss Sam, but believe he is in better place, near the burning bosom of God.

(a) These excerpts come from his Fire Science Resume: Life History.
(b) From Fatality Investigation, Sanborn Fire No. 104, June 5th 1979.
(c) Fire Caption Franklin Chester Knapp-Smith Sequence of Events deposition.
(d) Newspaper article: Fireman Missing in Canyon Blaze (San Jose News 6-6-79?)
(e) Newspaper article: Body of Fighterfighter Found in Saratoga Wildland, with an interview by Fire Captain Ken Gilbert (San Jose News, June 7, 1979.)
(f) See: Franklin Chester Knapp Smith Fire incident, on Aug. 11th, 1980.
(g) From funeral Mass Eulogy, by Ascension Parish Priest, (Fr John Koohan, OSJ)

Written by Sam’s brother: Robert Samuel Morrison (BobbyMo)
On the Feast of ‘Corpus Christi’, June 22, 2014.



Samuel P Morrison died at age 20, as the result of 'Heat Stoke' from a forest fire.

Samuel C Morrelli (Sam’ Uncle) died at age 21, from wounds received in WWII, France.

Samuel J Morrelli (Sam’s Mom’s nephew) died at age 2 days, from birth complications.

Family Members



Arrise my beloved, my beautiful one and come!

  • Created by: Robert S. Morrison
  • Added: 20 Oct 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 99295852
  • Robert S. Morrison
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Samuel Paul “Sam” Morrison (19 Oct 1958–5 Jun 1979), Find A Grave Memorial no. 99295852, citing Gate Of Heaven Catholic Cemetery, Los Altos, Santa Clara County, California, USA ; Maintained by Robert S. Morrison (contributor 47963056) .