Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

ENGINE 28 --
Telling It Like
It Was . . .

by Captain John F. Rooney

  The year was 1912 . . . New Mexico and Arizona were admitted to the Union as the 47th and 48th states;  the luxury liner Titanic, while on its maiden voyage, struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic;  Woodrow Wilson defeated William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt in the Presidential election and became the 26th President of the United States;  the stage was  being set in Europe for World War I;  the Olympic games were being held in Stockholm, Sweden; Ty Cobb was capturing the American League Batting Championship for the 6th year in a row batting .410 for Detroit; ;a fellow by the name of Joe Dawson attained an average speed of 78.82 mph to win the Indianapolis "500".

  Locally, the City of Los Angeles was acclaimed the 17th largest city in the nation with a population of just over 400,000;  William Mulholland, then the Chief Engineer of the Water Department, was supervising the completion of the Owens River Aqueduct Project;  natural gas came to Southern California as the Southern Counties Gas Company was established;  work began on the first municipal wharf in San Pedro and completion was being rushed to coincide with the opening of the Panama Canal, expected in the summer of 1914;  America's first drive-in gasoline service station was opened at Washington and Grand by Earle C. Anthony;  some downtown buildings of note being constructed were Robinsons Department Store, Los Angeles Athletic Club, The Clark Hotel and the Examiner Building.

  Also under construction early in 1912 was Fire Station 28, located at 644 South Figueroa Street.  The Los Angeles Fire Department at that time was under the leadership of Chief Archy Eley who was directing an expansion program made possible by a recent successful fire bond election.  These were the first bond funds available since 1898 and the City was in dire need of more Fire Stations and equipment.

  Station 28 was constructed to house two companies.  Also incorporated in the plans was a third floor which was to provide needed space for a proposed modernized fire alarm bureau.  The huge basement we designed to hold the bulky alarm equipment and considerable conduit was installed to accommodate miles of wiring.  The plan at that time was to replace the antiquated alarm system in the old City Hall located in the 200 block of South Broadway.  This plan was never realized, however, and over the past 56 years the third floor provided quarters for the Arson and Photo Units, the Relief Association and Credit Union.  Among other uses, the basement served as a practice hall for the Fire Department Band in later years.

  Construction was completed early in 1913 but the station was not occupied until after the start of the 1913-1914 fiscal year.  At 6:00 p.m. on July 15, 1913 Captain McDowell and eleven men put Engine 28 into service.  Their equipment consisted of a six-cylinder Seagrave Hose Wagon and a Gorham Pumper.  The wagon had a chemical tank with a hose reel and carried 1000 feet of 2 1/2 inch hose.  The three-stage pumper was rated at 1380 gpm and was purchased by the City for $10,000.

  One of Captain McDowell's first duties was to order supplies for the new station.  Some items listed on that first requisition were:

8 Cuspidors
9 Dusters
1 Stover Poker
1 Coal Shovel
1 Roll of tire tape
100# Marble Dust
1 Pkg. Mermaid Washing Powder
4 bars Tar Soap 

 Apparently one couldn't maintain quarters properly without these items.  A search of today's storeroom catalog shows no listing of these supplies and for that, one can be thankful.

  The working schedule in those days was referred to as the "30-day System".  Each man was allowed six 24-hour periods off each month and three one-hour meal leaves per day.  If for any reason manpower fell below minimum level "call men" were hired and paid on a daily basis.  Many of these men later became full-time members of the Department.  Pay day for regular members came on the first of the month and the pay envelope for a fully-paid fireman contained four twenty-dollar gold pieces.

  July, 1913 also brought a new administration to the City.  Henry Rose was the new Mayor.  The administration of the previous Mayor, George Alexander, had established for the 1913-14 fiscal year a city budget amounting to $6,435,776.00.  The Fire Department's share was $772,638.00.  Mr. A. F. Frankenstein, the conductor of the Orpheum Theatre Orchestra, was a new appointee to the Board of Fire Commissioners.  He and Mr. F. B. Silverwood, a local clothier, together had composed the song "I love you California."  In 1951 this song was adopted as the official state song by the legislature.

At 6:16 p.m. on July 23, 1913 Engine 28 responded to its first working fire at 1222 West 11th Street.  Few details were recorded but the company worked twenty minutes and raised twenty feet of ladders.  The inbound lanes of the Harbor Freeway now occupy the space where that structure once stood.  It was somewhat apropos that on Christmas Day of that same year they

worked on a chimney fire at 469 S. Bixel.  It's doubtful that Santa descended that one the night before.  The busiest day that first year, however, occurred on September 17, when at 9:24 a.m. a 350 gallon gasoline tank truck ruptured at 7th and Figueroa.  The spill became ignited and several buildings south of 7th Street were exposed.  No sooner was that incident cleared up when response was made to Box 18, at Fifth and Main Streets.  Upon their arrival a working fire was in progress involving the 3-story Sanborn Building.  Several men were overcome by heavy smoke caused by burning paints in the basement.  This fire became a multiple alarm and the large crowd that had assembled was controlled by mounted police officers.  Main Street was a conglomerate of people, hose and both horse drawn and automotive fire apparatus.  Operations were completed in three hours and the injured men returned to duty in time to work on another basement fire in the Stillwell Hotel early that evening.

  As a sign of the times it is noted there were many fires involving gasoline.  With the advent of the automobile, this volatile liquid was available for sale to the general public and it was put to many uses other than vehicle fuel.  Use and storage safeguards were not yet developed and in addition to property damage many deaths and serious injuries occurred when the vapors became accidentally ignited.

  Firefighting strategy of the day called for use of the chemical hose or in the event of a large fire, a straight 2 1/2 inch line was used.  Mattress fires were often handled with buckets and wet gunny sacks took care of many of the grass and hay fires that occurred.

  One of the duties of the engine companies in the downtown area was the testing of dry standpipes in their district.  This was usually done on Sunday mornings between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m.  The practice was reportedly discontinued, however, when water damage to the buildings resulted in some instances.

  In quarters daily drill sessions included Reading of the Rules and Regulations in addition to equipment manipulation and operation.  Outside wet drills were conducted at the southwest coroner of Orange St. (now Wilshire Blvd.)  and Figueroa St.  Because few firemen had motor vehicle driving experience in those days, many hours were spent tutoring relief drivers.  It should be noted, much of this time was not without incident.  Dented fenders, wrinkled running boards, bent steering rods and other miscellaneous scrapes occurred until the men "got the hang of it".

  Truck 7 joined Engine 28 in April of 1914 and ten years later Salvage 2 went into service in the same station.  Both the Truck and Salvage Companies changed their identities to 28 to coincide with the Engine Company number.  This occurred in 1932 in accordance with Department policy.  Outside of a brief six year move to Engine 9's quarters by the Salvage Company, the three Companies remained quartered together until the Truck Company was reassigned as Truck 50 in early 1967.

  Many changes were taking place as the Fire Department continued to expand.  The first pension system was approved by the voters and became effective in September, 1913.  Basically it provided one-half pay after age 55 provided a minimum of twenty years service had been completed.

  Another major change came in August of 1915.  Ordinance #32,438 provided for the establishment of a two-platoon system.  The platoons, identified "A" and "B", alternated weekly between daily 10-hour day and 14-hour night tours.  Relief times were 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.  It was necessary to hire several more firemen in order to implement the new system but funds were not made available.  The Board of Fire Commissioners argued that it was impossible to continue the same level of fire protection without this additional manpower.  The Board's request was not granted and so reluctantly they temporarily closed down ten companies which allowed the remaining 19 engine, 6 truck and 2 hose companies to be fully manned.

  This "10 and 14" system remained in effect until June of 1929 when at the request of the Department members, the voters approved a 24-hour, two-platoon plan which remained basically unchanged until January 1961, when the three platoon system was established.

  Ordinance #32,438 also included a new salary schedule which established the following monthly rates of pay for uniformed members:

Chief Engineer
Assistant Chief
Battalion Chief
Auto-Fireman & 4th year Fireman
3rd year Fireman
2nd year Fireman
1st year Fireman


  Many more changes in the Department have come about since the early days of Station 28 and as in any dynamic organization, more will come.  The most recent change affecting the station, as most of you already know, was its closing.  Engine 28 moved to Engine 3 and became Engine 203 establishing the Department's fourth Task Force station.  The rescue-Squad (Salvage) moved in with Engine 10 and assumed a new identity also.

   The closing of Station 28 is part of a continuous facilities replacement program which is currently dovetailed into present studies concerning the feasibility of combining companies in a single station and establishing Task Force Units.  In addition to 3's, stations 15, 29 and 33 are currently slated to become Task Force stations. 

  On June 15 the Board of Fire Commissioners held their weekly business meeting at Station 28 as a tribute to its long service to the City.  Prior to the meeting a luncheon was held amid the luxurious surroundings of the rear apparatus floor.  Colorful table settings were graciously furnished by the Statler-Hilton Hotel.  The Commissioners, Chief Hill, the Headquarters Staff, and various guests attended.

Because 28's was the station that it was, and the fact that so many people have been a part of its history, this brief outline is written.  There are thousands of memories and anecdotes that cannot be covered here but it is hoped that the following will stir some memories:

Do You Remember . . .

--  taking the 29 steps to the second floor doing you part to hallow out the already well-trod

--  all the buffs, firemen and nice people from the four corners of the world stopping in for a
    chat and maybe some pictures?

--  streetcars on 7th Street and Figueroa?

--  the trip to the roof for the last floor watch?

--  the Richfield Building as the City's newest landmark in 1929?  (Its' gone now)

--  the noise, dust and confusion as the Statler Hotel and Harbor Freeway were being

--  writing a "notice" in a hotel to Mr. Swantek?

--  peeking in at the brand new Studebakers at Paul G. Hoffman's across the street?

--  putting a shine on those beautiful hardwood floors in the dormitory?

--  the old Stutz Salvage Wagon? . . . and those brakes?

--  Harry Truman's walk past quarters?

--  Engine 3's "left-over" Christmas pies baked by a friend?

--  the crowd that gathered as you tested the hydrants at 7th and Broadway . . . even on
    Sunday mornings?

--  all the ice cream bets?  And how much of the "winnings" you ate?

--  the V.I.P. locker off the second floor hallway?

--  Sunday morning trips to Chavez Ravine and Jesse and Mission?

--  The Hinman Hotel next door?

--  the endless line of rookies?  (maybe you were one of them)

--  the L. A. Dodgers' welcoming parade that went north on Figueroa past the station?

--  "Les" Fisher, "Berries" Crandall & "Okie" Bordner?


--  the traffic snarls whenever Barker Brothers or Robinsons held a sale?

--  bull sessions in the back of the Morland transportation rig after dinner?

--  chasing handballs down Lebanon Street?

--  the difficult tillering maneuvers out of quarters when responding west on Wilshire?

--  the huge wood frame hotel at 4th and Figueroa that fell down one day?

--  Truck 28's last shift before moving to 50's was the night of the Post Hotel fire?

--  28's various parking "facilities" over the years?

--  7th Street filled with mysterious bubbles after a drill in the handball court?

--  scrubbing the brick apparatus floor prior to (semi) annual inspection?

--  the unbelievable Richfield Tower fire?

--  construction of the handball court in 1942?

--  the smell of the salvage covers on a hot summer day in the basement?

--  mysterious "cloud bursts" that occurred near the kitchen . . . even on sunny days?

--  the rifle range in the basement?

--  the addition of the downstairs office?

--  the long slide from the 3rd floor?

--  the construction of that giant T. V. signal-killer called the Tishman Building?

--  the driving range in the basement?

--  wondering how a Captain, who was soaking in his bath tub on the second floor, must
    have looked as he began to realize a long ring was coning in?
(the tub was replaced
    by a "modern" shower in 1939)

--  polishing all that brass on inspection day . . . even the hose bib at the rear of the
     apparatus floor?

--  the incinerator that was a "hinder" in the corner of the old handball court?

--  Someday in the not too distant future a new station 28 will be located somewhere in
    this vast city.  Its history will also be recorded and perhaps in another half-century
    someone will write about it.  I hope that I will rear it and recall some of the things
    written here.


This article appeared in the August 1969 issue of THE FIREMAN'S GRAPEVINE

Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved.